The Senior Vice-President of Vattenfall Distribution explains why the energy sector needs more than just engineers to achieve net-zero goals.
It was writer and socialite Zelda Fitzgerald – wife of F. Scott – who said “she refused to be bored chiefly because she wasn’t boring”.
Songwriter Neil Tennant of pop group the Pet Shop Boys later loosely adapted the quote for the band’s hit Being Boring.
No one could accuse Annika Viklund of being boring: she’s the progressive-thinking Senior Vice-President of Vattenfall Distribution in Sweden.
Yet when we meet, it’s not electricity grids she wants to talk about, but the perception of the energy sector as ‘being boring’.
“If there’s one thing that keeps me awake at night, it’s the scarcity of talent in the energy industry. Many of the older generation are now going into retirement at the same time that we have electrification and decarbonisation, and we need people who can build and plan and operate.”
This problem, she says, is compounded by the fact that “the energy industry is seen as the ‘old boring guys’”.
She’s clear that to tackle this problem, a strategy is needed to target not college students, but children.
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“We need to be in pre-school or kindergarten, or elementary school, and show them that they can become a climate influencer. There are so many things that they can do.
“We need to say: ‘You matter to this world. And you can make a difference if you come into our business.’ Everybody needs to feel that they are important and needed.”
She stresses that the industry needs more than just engineers: “We need lawyers, we need economists, we need communicators.”
She says that there is a perception that the next generation workforce wants more from a job than their parents did, yet Viklund has three children in their 20s and she states that “surprisingly, they are not so different from what I was”.
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“They would like to have an interesting development of their life and a work-life balance. They would like to learn at work, and to be accepted and included for who they are.”
All things that should be a given in any career and certainly things that the energy sector should – and does – offer.
But she stresses that to counter this draining of the current talent pool, the industry needs to collaborate as a whole, otherwise “we all fail together”.
“We have to start by looking at where the jobs will be, going forward. What kind of industries will be needed?”
And she is adamant that the energy sector should “definitely join forces with other industries. Too often, particular industries see themselves as ‘no one understands me – I’m very, very special’.
“But I think we have much in common, so we need to see these people – and not only young people, but those who wish to change career path in their 40s – as a whole potential new workforce.
“We need to see how different industries can cooperate and be much closer to schools and communities, like, I guess, it was in the ‘old days’.
“Maybe we should be inspired by the ‘old days’, when communities were stronger. Individualism is good… inclusivity is better.”
Community. Inclusivity. Communication. Collaboration. These are the words Viklund uses repeatedly in our interview: not just about recruiting new talent but also regarding the other major issues facing the energy sector, not least the race to net zero.
And a race is exactly how she describes it: “It’s a relay race to be sustainable. And don’t underestimate industries and consumers, because they don’t want to be in the position of saying: ‘I did nothing’. We need to run a little bit faster and a little bit smarter.”
Viklund is clearly a thinker, but she is also evidently a ‘do-er’.
She insists that to counter the climate crisis, the energy sector needs to get out of the blocks and start running the race.
“We can’t wait anymore. We need to ‘do’. We need to learn and proceed. We have a world in crisis and I am concerned that we think we have time to think and analyse more.
“Innovations often come from engineers and academics, and they like to have everything in place before they move. I’m not sure we can afford to do that.”
She looks to entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos for inspiration: “They ‘do’, they try, sometimes they fail… and they pick themselves up and go again.”
She emphasises that a key reason the sector needs to ‘do’, is that many of its customers have already been busy ‘doing’ for themselves. “I have customers breathing down my neck saying: ‘We need to get started.’
“They have found a way to produce products that are fossil free and decarbonised, and they want to put it on the market and get the market share.”
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“Sometimes you can believe that large industries do not move until they get large incentives to do so. Yet these companies are so much more engaged in sustainability, and by working with sustainability, they see how they can contribute.
“And then in turn, their customers start to ask how they can contribute to sustainability.
“People and industries start moving without incentives. Then you need the right incentives to get the late-movers to join.
“We need to include people. We need to engage people. Otherwise, we can’t get the whole of the civilised world to move. We need to move fast, be brave, to design and redesign.”
She compares the need for speed on climate action to the urgency that was required to find medical solutions to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Sometimes I’m impressed by how leaders act during a crisis. We now need to act like we did around the pandemic. So many decisions were taken that were going into the unknown – they were not trialled before. But it worked.”
Viklund says we should not look at the climate crisis “as if we haven’t adopted tremendous solutions and innovations in the past, because we have.
“I have a basic belief that everybody tries to do good things. All over Europe and the rest of the world, people are taking the measures that they can”.
What we need now, she says, is a coordinated approach to a common goal.
“Communication and collaboration, between society, politicians, and consumers. We need to have some kind of common roadmap to see how we can gather in our communities to discuss these topics. I think that’s an underestimated resource.”