Rishi Dhir, head of strategy at Siegel+Gale, explores how energy brands can win the hearts and minds of Gen Z – soon to be the biggest cohort in the workforce – by walking the talk, challenging industry stereotypes, and embracing diversity.
- Gen Z places a premium on authenticity and purpose. It’s not enough for companies to merely espouse sustainability; they must embody it through tangible actions.
- They stereotype the energy industry and perceive it as having an ‘old school’ mentality around key topics such as diversity and career flexibility – things this generation cares deeply about.
- Businesses that understand what makes them tick, and actively align their brand and employer value propositions with Gen Z’s hearts and minds, stand to win big.
We recently hit a new population milestone. According to UN estimates, the number of people on the planet crossed the eight billion threshold last year. More than two billion of them are Gen Z, making them the single largest generational group.
Currently aged between 10 and 25, they are starting to enter the workforce at scale. Their economic, political, and cultural influence is growing day by day and, by 2030, they will occupy one-third of all jobs globally.
Without a doubt, this cohort matters immensely. Businesses that understand what makes them tick, and actively align their brand and employer value propositions with Gen Z’s hearts and minds, stand to win big.
Yet the energy industry is struggling to captivate this purpose-driven group and unless it can turn the tide of opinion, will lose the war for the future talent needed to move the industry forward. With this in mind, we ran a survey with Gen Zers aged 20-25 across North America and Europe to understand their attitudes to energy and explore what can be done to ‘switch them on’.
What makes them tick?
Like the generations before them, Gen Z wants many of the same things from a career as Millennials, Gen Xers and Boomers: a decent salary, job satisfaction, stability and the opportunity for personal and professional growth.
The technological, social and cultural influences that have shaped their lives, however, have wired them a little differently. Collectively, they are more purpose-driven and exercise a ‘we is greater than me’ mindset, caring more deeply about issues such as climate change and the health of our planet. They are more inclusive than previous generations, having grown up in a world where diversity, equity and inclusion is a table-stake and a virtue. Gen Zers expect to have the freedom and flexibility to work where, how, and when they want, having entered the world of work at a time when technology has made that the norm.
The energy industry needs to reframe its value proposition to this emerging generation in order to captivate them. So, what should it do?
Walk the talk
Gen Z places a premium on authenticity and purpose. It’s not enough for companies to merely espouse sustainability; they must embody it through tangible actions.
Digitally native, Gen Z can see through veiled attempts to tell stories that are alternate to the truth. Promises must be backed up with meaningful actions, behaviours and innovations that transcend skin-deep communication efforts.
Energy group Octopus is a case in point. Founded in 2016 with the ambition to bring affordable green energy to the world, they have invested over £3 billion across Europe to make the energy supply chain smarter – and greener. Their electricity comes from 100% renewable sources. They have introduced innovative tariffs where price dynamically adjusts in response to demand, encouraging consumption when greener energy is more abundant. And to encourage people to use electric vehicles (EVs), they even offer EV leasing deals.
By offering green products and services seamlessly integrating into their daily lives, Octopus Energy has become a ‘go-to’ brand for Gen Z. These initiatives have become hallmarks of the brand and their commitment to the cause.
Challenge industry stereotypes
The perceptual issues that the energy sector is confronting are manifold: it is seen as lacking excitement and variety, and many assume that the work will be stressful and boring. Crucially, Gen Z stereotypes the industry and perceives it as having an ‘old school’ mentality around key topics such as diversity and career flexibility – things this generation cares deeply about.
Indeed, our survey showed that Gen Z explicitly rejects traditional, non-renewable energy players, perceiving the brands as “untrustworthy,” “unprestigious” and “old fashioned”, with around 60% saying they are unlikely to apply to roles within the sector.
The energy industry must modernise and those that do so will be the ones that win disproportionately. For instance, DONG Energy, the Danish energy company, was one of Europe’s biggest polluters. In 2017, the business reinvented itself as a renewable company, guided by a vision of creating a world run entirely on green energy. To signal this change, the company rebranded itself as Ørsted (CPH: ORSTED) – named after the Danish scientist. Previously, the DONG Energy graduate scheme marketed itself for “highly skilled young professionals”, whereas the Ørsted graduate programme welcomes ‘leaders, dreamers, and problem-solvers to join them on a “two-year learning journey to change the world”.
Actively embrace diversity
The energy industry is perceived as being “male, pale and stale”, and often associated with a severe lack of diversity. Not only is this at odds with what arguably the most inclusive generation in history is looking for, but it is failing to bring in a diverse set of mindsets, skills and talents that may undermine the industry’s ability to solve the challenges ahead (there is strong evidence to suggest that workforce diversity drives innovation capacity).
Industries such as technology and professional services have made significant strides in this space, setting up apprenticeship schemes and exploring new, creative ways to attract top and diverse talent. The energy industry can learn from these players by re-engineering recruitment processes and employer brand value propositions to attract talent that might not ordinarily apply. Although achieving greater diversity requires effort, the resulting benefits will undoubtedly be worth the energy invested.
The opinions of guest authors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of SG Voice.