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Converging over Coffee… Cleantech for Top Talent

24 June 2022

We seldom need to question whether top talent can contribute to the work they do. But there is definitely a question about whether that work itself contributes to the needs of top talent.

Over the last 2 years, dramatic changes to economic and workplace dynamics have led many developed economies to what we call The Great Resignation and then subsequently, The Great Renegotiation. Employee choices are driving the talent flow much more today, and the battle for top talent is even more acute.

Today, we need to ask ourselves how a job in a particular sector can meet the more complex profile of needs for our top talent. This is where I believe Cleantech offers a strong, unique value proposition even when compared against the hotter sectors like fintech, software development, blockchain, etc.

In this month’s Converging over Coffee series, we uncover 4 key aspects of this value proposition that perhaps only the Cleantech sector can offer to top talent!

  1. Solve New Problems

  2. Be More Than a Commodity

  3. Nurture Purpose

  4. Leadership Required

#1 Solve New Problems

Most of our jobs really ask us to solve existing problems, oftentimes with existing methods and existing solutions. After all, that’s the name of the game of productivity.

In fact, most people will be forgiven for preferring to just be good at their jobs and be the most dependable person to solve those existing problems. Nothing wrong with that. We might even get creative doing this by tweaking existing solutions when the situation calls for it. We’ll all be happy to have someone like that in our teams.

But if you are a top talent, this is still going to leave you feeling somewhat empty.

Having the opportunity to Solve New Problems is the kind of thing that motivates top talent and inspires them to bring their best game, even though it stresses out the rest of us. Cleantech is, almost by definition, a sector that is dedicated to solving new problems. New problems related to the changing climate, evolving energy mix, intensifying water risks, acute food security and in many cases, a complex nexus of energy-water-food challenges. There are few - in some cases, none - of those tried-and-tested solutions or approaches to count on. You have to not only bring all of your scientific or engineering experience & expertise, but also your business acumen, market savvy, and partnering instincts. Oh, and a strong dose of creativity and ingenuity helps too.

The above is actually a description of all the people I know who work in cleantech (whether water, energy, buildings, coastal, or resilience) and I will never stop being impressed by what they do everyday. This is really where top talent belongs.

#2 Be More Than a Commodity

It’s not easy to differentiate yourself with talent being so readily accessible today.

It’s even harder to differentiate yourself when your work is based on a system of proven methods. The nature of a typical engineering company’s approach to delivering solutions, product & services are not so different. High performance coupled with high productivity tends to be the ticket to success. Sometimes the general pool of potential talent can feel commoditized.

When using these talent lens to look at things, you will find that cleantech offers an additional source of value on top of what it already does.

Cleantech exists because we need newer, better ways to design, build and operate the systems we have. The challenges involved when working on cleantech are not trivial and often extends beyond conventional engineering expertise. But this is exactly the type of work meant for top talent! And it is not just because top talent thrive doing work that extends their competencies… It is also because the world desperately needs them to be doing transformational work like this.

#3 Nurture Purpose

It’s hard for top talent to operate at a high level and outperform on a consistent basis if your work is not founded on some sort of purpose.

There was a time when purpose was treated like a fuzzy idea. Today, finding and nurturing your professional purpose - and possibly life purpose - is a fantastic value proposition. Once you latch onto it, purpose helps to unlock your ability to tap your strengths fully. But more importantly, purpose becomes the driving force to push those strengths beyond what they are today.

If there is one element of cleantech that makes it different from other pursuits, it is the opportunity to have a say in how we should build a better world. Cleantech is not transactional because it serves a sustainability goal that is not yet fully formed. In trying to shape what sustainability looks like through the deployment of cleantech, you may start to find a unique sense of purpose. And that’s the type of purpose directed outward in service of others that come after you.

Top talent needs cleantech, as much as cleantech needs top talent.

#4 Leadership Required

Where do you actually find leadership? If you’re in a team where everyone knows what to do, you probably need solid teamwork to be successful. You need leadership most of all where the path ahead is unclear and complex to travel on.

The cleantech journey is perhaps the definition of unclear and complex. It has had some starts and stops in the years past. It spans multiple sectors with a subtle common thread called “green”. And it has perhaps progressed, transitioned or re-branded into what some call climate tech these days. The only thing that has remained the same is just how much our climate-impact world depends on it.

We may have made progress in articulating cleantech’s value proposition but there is still much to do, much to learn and much more progress needed in other areas… from technological innovation, to commercial viability, to unlocking sources of friction with the system, to creating collaborative partnerships with stakeholders.

If top talent seek a way to learn and deploy a brand of leadership that delivers positive outcomes not just for business results but also for technological advancement, for people development and for a sustainable world for generations to come, then it’s hard to think of many better options than cleantech.

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