Energy transition and crisis drive growth in specialist courses

Pierre Arnal chose a career in the energy industry because he wanted to help accelerate the green transition. “We are being very slow to react to climate change,” says the French business graduate. “I want to be able to tell myself in 20-30 years I have been doing something with a minimum impact on the climate.”

Arnal decided a specialist degree was the way to break into the sector at a fascinating moment in its evolution. He enrolled on the 2020-21 MSc in Energy Management at ESCP Business School, based in the UK and Paris, and says he gained a holistic view of the global energy system and project finance for renewable energy.

He joined the French group TotalEnergies after an internship there during his degree and now works in Paris as a junior offshore wind business developer, helping to prepare tenders.

At times Arnal felt conflicted about energy groups whose businesses are rooted in fossil fuels. “There are some companies I blacklisted because I didn’t trust what they were doing; I thought they were greenwashing,” he says. “However, being able to work in TotalEnergies and seeing the change that is happening, and the enormous sums of money the company is spending on renewables, helped me change my mind.”

Business schools across Europe are creating masters programmes in energy to educate the next generation of managers who will lead the green transition. The new courses come as Europe faces an energy crisis. Oil, gas and coal imports from Russia have been cut because of sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine, pushing the European economy to the brink of recession. Governments in the EU plan to spend tens of billions of euros on fossil-fuel infrastructure and supplies this winter, to cushion households and businesses from soaring energy prices.

“Providing reliable, affordable and sustainable energy is essential for economic stability and growth, yet the energy industry faces the dual challenge of meeting demands today while shifting to renewable sources for the future,” says David Elmes, professor of practice at Warwick Business School in the UK.

Degree programmes are not immune to market forces, though. Warwick launched its Global Energy MBA in 2009, but stopped recruiting into the programme in 2015 when the oil price crash reduced enrolment. In 2017, the modules were merged into the school’s other MBA programmes.

Warwick also offers an elective called “Managing the Sustainable Energy Transition” in its various MBA programmes. Demand is so high that the course will run twice in the 2022-23 academic year. “It’s attracting a broader mix of people from the construction, automotive and heavy industrial companies as they set strategies to reduce their carbon emissions,” Elmes says.

Similar programmes are rising fast in popularity as applicants rush to join a sector seen as critical in the race to net zero. The class for ESCP’s MSc in Energy Management is 44 per cent bigger than last year. “We saw a huge increase in the number of applications, because more students are now interested in the energy transition because of the climate crisis,” says Georgia Makridou, academic director of the programme. The school has overhauled curricula to meet the sector’s changing priorities, adding more green content.

The complex nature of the energy system means many business schools are having to draw on their university’s expertise to deliver a multidisciplinary curriculum.

The Advanced Master in Energy Transition Marketing and Management is offered jointly by France’s Grenoble Ecole de Management and Ense³, an engineering school that specialises in energy, water and the environment. “Before you can think about business models and strategy, you have to first master the technical basics — yet business schools do not have this expertise on the faculty,” says GEM’s Fabrice Arroyo, director of the programme.

Schools say a growing number of students on these programmes are oil and gas workers seeking to move into the renewables sector, underscoring the recruitment challenge big energy groups face. Many have set out long-term strategies to become green businesses, but the transformation will take a great deal of human capital — if they can attract the employees.

“When you talk to the big fossil fuel companies, like BP, they are desperately keen for people who understand renewables as they know they have to get into it, yet their heritage and workforce are steeped in the fossil fuel environment,” says Joanna Berry, co-director of a new MSc in Energy Engineering Management. The programme will be launched jointly next September by the business school and department of engineering at the UK’s Durham University.

High pay is not enough to attract business students, Berry adds. “They have a conscience,” she says. “There is a huge drive towards a job that has a purpose, not just a profit. That balance has never been more obvious to me in the student body we have. Our students are different creatures to what they were a decade ago.”

And graduates can pick and choose the jobs they want, according to Xavier Blot, director of the Specialised Master in Energy Transition Management at EMLyon Business School in France, delivered jointly with the ECAM Lyon engineering school. He says demand for green skills exceeds supply across a range of employers, from investment and consultancy businesses to non-governmental organisations.

“Like natural resources, competent people are scarce,” Blot explains. “The incoming flow of skilled talent into the industry is tiny compared with the market need. So, we really need to increase supply.”

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