Whitelaw: Here’s What The Next Generation Of Energy Professionals Is Teaching Me

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Most people consider themselves life-long learners — after a fashion.

Me included.

Sometimes, that learning presents itself more formally, say, in terms of ongoing course work and professional development. Other times, it’s more in a carpe diem fashion, when a prospect presents itself in the moment and you seize it. And, of course, there’s a whole opportunity spectrum in between.

Most folks would also agree that quality instruction makes a world of difference.

My latest learning moment is thanks to a dozen young upstream and midstream professionals who are participants in the Avatar Innovations program. They’re among nearly 300 such next-generation leaders — drawn from nearly 70 companies in a pan-Canadian context — who are on their own learning journey through an intriguing array of programming and experiential case studies via Avatar’s learning platform, which complements its accelerator and venture capital efforts. (More about Avatar here: www.avatarinnovations.energy.)

So far, they’re learning lots, from some pretty experienced energy sector players.

I’m not sure if they know they’re teaching as well. But they are. And I’m happy for the instruction.

My (minor) role in the Avatar program is to help teams dealing with energy sector advocacy and policy questions as they map toward their own future states within a sector itself dealing with tremendous fluidity and change. To the degree my perspective matters, they’re amazingly sophisticated in how they’re tackling things.

But here’s what they’re teaching me. And the key “learnings” I’m afforded are helping me reflect on what the current generation “in charge” needs to do to effect a proper handover, so to speak:

  • Our sector’s future is in pretty decent hands — but we need the numbers.
    • Key learning: we have a tremendously deep talent pool but the people in it now will need to be backstopped by an aggressive recruiting campaign.
  • Our next-generation leaders are quite prepared to move beyond the technical niches that too often defined career trajectory.
    • Key learning: There’s a definite interest in pursuing careers that could comfortably fall under the label of “technical generalist” — that is, someone who oscillates easily across diverse and complex issues and sees linkages that promote creative thinking.
  • They’re authentically concerned about the environment in a holistic “air-water-land” context.
    • Key learning: There’s true concern that we have to pick up the pace of progress — that while there seems to be industry acknowledgement, momentum and measuring needs to accelerate. This is the ESG Generation, in other words.
  • They understand our sector has an image problem; aspects of challenged reputation deservedly earned, other elements less so.
    • Key learning: This is a media-savvy generation which knows you gain more traction by proving up performance — and effectively listening and engaging. Put more directly, they know ‘social licence’ doesn’t carry much weight these days.
  • They’re keenly interested in energy transition — and the key role the petroleum sector will play in a strategic energy mix that balances environmental and economic imperatives.
    • Key learning: these are systems thinkers; they’re eager to understand complex systems inter-relationships and inter-connectivity that allows industry and society to progress in lockstep.
  • They know we need to step up (radically) to the way we think through Indigenous reconciliation and partnership opportunities.
    • Key learning: This demographic is eager to work in a true partnership spirit with Indigenous communities in a way that incorporates traditional knowledge systems into the way society thinks about energy evolution.
  • They’re excited about the opportunities associated with digital transition and cleantech transformation.
    • Key learning: This is a generation interested in doing better via application of new technological thinking — but not just “tech for tech’s sake.” In their view, tech innovation must be driven by a “shared value” ethos.

There are other industry folks like me supporting the Avatar initiative. They’re coaching and providing perspectives. They’re involved because they recognize the stakes are high — and perhaps they have a view to offer the support they never formally received because, of course, times were different. And, of course, they have an abiding faith in the talent bench with which they’re privileged to engage.

Presumably, they’re also life-long learners. It would be interesting as this phase of the Avatar program winds down to compare notes with them and see if we’ve landed on the same conclusions via their learning insights.

Perhaps collectively, our perspectives may have some utility in how we set up our next generation to prepare for a range of opportunities and challenges that we never contemplated. While we certainly have some useful insights to impart, at the risk of sounding trite, how we help frame their success is a function of how effectively we learn from them.

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