This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features Carolyn Amon and Brad Denny of Deloitte discussing their recent whitepaper about the natural gas utility workforce in a decarbonizing world, what was included in the report, and how they collected the necessary data.
In this episode, you will learn about decarbonization gaining more interest and what that means for current workers in the industry, as well as the increase in digitalization and how bringing new generations of workers together will bring many new perspectives to the field.
Download the Whitepaper – The Natural Gas Utility Workforce in a Decarbonizing World
Natural Gas Utility Workforce in a Decarbonizing World Show Notes, Links, & Insider Terms:
- Carolyn Amon is a Manager in Deloitte Services LP, focused on Energy, Resources & Industrials at Deloitte Research Center for Energy and Industrials. Connect with Carolyn on LinkedIn.
- Brad Denny is Principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP. Connect with Brad on LinkedIn.
- Deloitte provides industry-leading audit, consulting, tax and advisory services to many of the world’s most admired brands, including nearly 90% of the Fortune 500® and more than 7,000 private companies. Deloitte is proud to be part of the largest global professional services network serving our clients in the markets that are most important to them. Building on more than 175 years of service, our network of member firms spans more than 150 countries and territories. Learn how Deloitte’s approximately 415,000 people worldwide connect for impact at www.deloitte.com.
- The Natural Gas Utility Workforce in a Decarbonizing World – Read the Whitepaper
- CEWD (The Center for Energy Workforce Development) is a non-profit consortium of energy companies, contractors, associations, unions, educators, and business partners working together to ensure a skilled, diverse workforce pipeline to meet future industry needs.
- APGA (American Public Gas Association) is a not-for-profit trade organization representing America’s publicly owned natural gas local distribution companies (LDCs). They develop regulatory and legislative policies and organize meetings, seminars, and workshops with a specific goal to improve the safety, reliability, operational efficiency, and regulatory environment in which public gas systems operate. Through APGA, public gas systems work together to stay reliably informed about new developments in safety, public policy, operations, technology, and the marketplace.
- AGA (American Gas Association) represents companies delivering natural gas safely, reliably, and in an environmentally responsible way to help improve the quality of life for their customers every day. AGA’s mission is to provide clear value to its membership and serve as the indispensable, leading voice and facilitator on its behalf in promoting the safe, reliable, and efficient delivery of natural gas to homes and businesses across the nation.
- BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) measures labor market activity, working conditions, price changes, and productivity in the U.S. economy to support public and private decision making.
- Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) is a pipeline-quality gas that is fully interchangeable with conventional natural gas. The quality of RNG is similar to fossil natural gas and has a methane concentration of 90% or greater.
- Blockchain is a secure ledger of transactions that uses cryptographic hash algorithms to make oil and gas users’ operations more efficient, transparent, and trustworthy.
- Decarbonization is the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions through the use of low carbon power sources, achieving a lower output of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.
- The Inflation Reduction Act The Inflation Reduction Act contains $500 billion in new spending and tax breaks that aim to boost clean energy, reduce healthcare costs, and increase tax revenues.
Natural Gas Utility Workforce in a Decarbonizing World Full Episode Transcript:
Russel Treat: Welcome to the “Pipeliners Podcast,” episode 271, sponsored by Gas Certification Institute, providing standard operating procedures, training, and software tools for custody transfer measurement and field operations professionals. Find out more about GCI at GasCertification.com.
Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations. Now, your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. I appreciate you taking the time. To show our appreciation, we give away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener every episode. This week, our winner is Brian Paul with Patriot Pipeline Safety. Congratulations, Brian, your YETI is on its way.
To learn how you can win the signature prize, stick around till the end of the episode. This week we spoke with Carolyn and Brad with Deloitte about their recent whitepaper on the future of the natural gas workforce.
A quick shoutout to Stuart Saulters with the American Public Gas Association for making the introduction. Carolyn and Brad, welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast.
Carolyn Amon: Thank you.
Brad Denny: Glad to be here.
Russel: We’re going to talk about the changing gas utility workforce in a decarbonizing world. Before we dive into the subject, though, if you would, would each of you guys give us a little bit about your background and what you do, and how you came to be involved in a report on the energy workforce?
Carolyn: Yeah. I’m Carolyn Amon with the Deloitte Research Center for Energy and Industrials. We develop a lot of research on, for me in particular, power utilities and renewables. We’ve started on this series where we’re looking at decarbonization strategies for utilities. Then building on that we looked at the workforce skills on the power side. Then most recently on the gas utility side. I’m very passionate about the energy transition.
Brad: Great. I’m Brad Denny. I have the privilege of working a lot with Carolyn and her team. I run our human capital energy resources and industrials team on the Deloitte consulting side of the house. I’m also our lead consulting partner for a couple of large utilities here in the US. I live and breathe this every day.
As I mentioned, I’ve been lucky to work with Carolyn and the team on the research that we’ve done on the last couple of these reports, as well as at CEWD, the AGA, and APGA.
Carolyn: That’s been one of the great things working on this report, is just being able to work with the Center for Energy Workforce Development, and then through them, the American Gas Association and American Public Gas Association, and that’s how we got to you.
Russel: Awesome. Our buddies over there at the APGA that connected us, so shout out. What is the nature of this report? What’s in the report? How did you go about collecting the information? Maybe we’ll start there. From there, we could talk about what you learned.
Carolyn: We had started off looking at, like I said, the power side, what are the opportunities in decarbonization, and how that’s going to impact the workforce. Natural gas was part of that, but kind of a black box. We really wanted to delve into that.
Through those relationships, the associations I mentioned, we wanted to look at really the molecule side. What are the pathways to decarbonization and what are the implications for the workforce? As we found on the power side, there’s really an opportunity for growth through decarbonization.
What we looked at is what skills the workforce will need in that decarbonized future, how the industry sees that decarbonization, the timeline for it and what it means, how they can start preparing the workforce for that future and what skills will be needed, and in particular, digital skills, and how to attract new workers.
Brad: We were fortunate enough to be able to leverage the relationships with AGA and APGA to survey, what was it, just under 60 of their members, Carolyn, if I remember correctly, and also just brought research on about 100 different members as well. Fairly far reaching input to make sure we’re heading down the right path.
Carolyn: In addition to surveying all of those members really to see what utilities think, we also looked at all their Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) disclosures for all of the utilities that do disclose. Those are the 100 utilities that Brad is referring to.
We looked at whether they have decarbonization targets, first of all. When they do, what scopes do those targets cover? Is it scope one, scope two, scope three? There’s a huge difference in terms of emissions. Then, what sort of strategies they’re looking at to reach those targets.
We also looked at Burning Glass Technologies. It’s a database that scrapes the web for job postings. Deloitte also has a proprietary data lake that does something similar more on the supply side, so we ended up matching those. What are the skills that utilities are looking for? What are the skills that the workforce has, and what matches there? Those are the research methods that we used.
Carolyn: Of course, interviews and industry perspectives with a lot of the clients that Brad works with. We also went to some of the conferences and spoke to members there.
Russel: What did you find out? What were some of the key findings that came out of the report or the analysis?
Carolyn: The big takeaway is the growth opportunity if utilities decarbonize.We have this framework – renew, reshape, refuel – so transitioning gas towards renewable natural gas, towards hydrogen blending, and eventually some pipeline development with all hydrogen.
Also, other areas that are adjacent, like geothermal networks where the natural gas industry has a lot of expertise that would easily be applicable to the new sector. On the demand side also, some sort of smart systems, new technologies deployed in people’s homes and on the industry side.
Then just completely new areas in long distance transportation, aviation. Areas that are yet to be fueled with decarbonized gasses. There’s a huge area for growth that is different from what we see if we look at BLS data.
That’s another source we use, Bureau of Labor Statistics, that shows, in business-as-usual trend over the next decade, that there isn’t much growth in the industry. It might stagnate and then decline, so would be reversal of the trends if the industry gets into these new areas. RNG, hydrogen, in particular, and geothermal.
Brad: To me, that was the biggest. For some people, that’s probably quite obvious if you’re really close to the industry. If you listen to the broader narrative out there, there is a story that some people may say that the overall pipeline workforce, whether it’s core, the gas utilities, is going to go down with decarbonization.
The report shows the opposite. If the utility is firmly moving down a path of decarbonization, there actually is job growth in this area, which I think is something people really need to talk about. It’s a huge help in driving economies in a number of areas in the region.
It’s a great source of good paying jobs for a lot of people, including a lot who may not have a college or university education. It’s often just not talked about. I think, in helping attract people to the utility industry, this is something that we need to be talking more and more about.
Carolyn: Also, on the power side, we have seen that in some segments, like the coal workforce, it sees a declining workforce. On the gas side, the workforce has so many skills that would easily be transferable to these new industries, again hydrogen, RNG, geothermal. It’s a story of growth retraining for new roles, but not necessarily any job losses.
Russel: It’s interesting. I’m pretty familiar with RNG and what’s going to be required to do RNG at scale. I’m pretty familiar with hydrogen, and I’ve been reading a lot of the stuff that’s going on around that, including some of the opinions that would be against hydrogen from a safety perspective.
What I find in both those cases is what’s going to happen for the utilities in particular is their operations going to become more complex. That has really far
Most utilities are very thinly staffed. Particularly the smaller, little public utilities, they tend to be very simple systems, very short staffed, because they’re trying to keep the cost of energy to the customer down. That’s one of their key charters, if you will.
How does that reality play out when you start talking about things like RNG, hydrogen, and other types of utility impacts from these different decarbonization initiatives?
Carolyn: I guess that’s where the opportunity is. For the current workforce, you’re right, that thin workforce, they will all have jobs in these growing areas, and maybe some retraining is required. That also means there will be a need to attract new talent and grow that workforce. That’s where that industry and workforce growth will come from.
Some of those skills will be new skills. There’s a lot of digitalization. Digital skills right now are going to help really augment that workforce. The sector already, most of the job postings we saw, do have digital skill requirements, several. That’s been growing a lot over the past decade. Even more so, that trend will be accelerated with decarbonization.
It will be important for the industry to attract that new talent, those new skills that are needed, which will be much easier to do if the industry has a strong mission of decarbonizing. That is really a powerful draw for talent.
Brad: If you think of things in those digital skills, things like automation, data analysis, in particular data management, there’s already a skill gap in the utility industry, whether it’s gas or electric. That’s just going to potentially get bigger, because there is going to be more and more demand in that area. These are also skills that most industries need.
It’s also a chance, as you talk about, attracting and retaining as utilities talk more about the digital requirement and talk about how they train people, how they have apprenticeship programs that include the digital aspect, as well as the more manual craft aspect and the specific pipeline technologies that our folks have.
That can become a pretty attractive hiring proposition for a lot of people. You’re being trained on the pipelines and you’re being trained on some of these digital skills, and you have the chance to work in a variety of different areas.
Carolyn: Now with the layoffs with some of the big tech companies, a lot of those, for some people, especially Gen Z, the new generations, it’s maybe the first time they’re experiencing these layoffs, an industry that they thought was just growing, growing, growing over the past decade.
This is an opportunity to look at different career paths that they may not have considered before and being able to apply those skills and also tie it to, again, a meaningful mission, and also an industry that, as opposed to the big tech right now, is seen maybe as a safer, more secure career path. That could be a plus for the utilities.
Russel: As I’m listening to this, this is one of those conversations that causes a whole lot of conversations to fire off in my head, because you talk about digital skills. What does that mean? Really down in the weeds, what does that mean?
What are we talking about? Does that mean I need to know Microsoft Office? Do I have to be a Python programmer? Do I need to be a data analyst? What does that mean, digital skills?
Brad: Carolyn, you want to talk maybe around the seven categories, seven groupings that we focused on?
Carolyn: Yeah. There were over 1,000 different digital skills when we looked at the Burning Glass Technologies data. We clustered them into bigger groupings. We looked at data analysis, data management, cloud, cyber, automation. We’ve got blockchain also.
When you’re saying how would that specifically be applied, in this case, we were thinking if you have pipelines, and you’re going to have to start differentiating between the carbon content of different gasses that you’re transporting, that might be a new type of job that’s created.
Utilities is having blockchain analysts to be able to keep track of the different carbon content of the gasses that they’re transporting. Things like that.
Brad: Data analysis, that was the top skill that came out. If you think about just all the sensors that we have now, or will have on the pipelines, and all the data that we gather from that, whether it be from maintenance, safety, flow, all those different perspectives.
Having people the ability to actually take that and just take it from data to get information and make business decisions on where are we going to focus our crews, where do we need to do proactive maintenance, how are we solving some of the challenges that we’ve got, whether it’s hydrogen, whatever flowing through, a tremendous, tremendous need in that space.
Russel: I would argue that this need for data management is there, regardless of the decarbonization initiatives or the energy transition, that this data analysis need is there anyways.
There’s other things that are going on, like monitoring for methane emissions, leak detection, rupture response, things that the public is going to require, is already requiring of the utilities, that’s already driving needs for new ways to think about what data do we collect, how do we collect it, and what do we do with it.
That’s a huge need, regardless. That all makes sense to me. Pretty much everything you said makes sense. The blockchain blows my head up a little bit. I know what blockchain is. There’s some real interesting applications and possibilities for blockchain in oil and gas. I just don’t know of anybody that’s done anything that’s meaningful commercially yet.
This actually tees up another question I want to ask. I’ll just put this out there. I’m just at a place in my career that I’m pretty skeptical. I have in the past made significant investment in the CO2 carbon capture and sequestration market with limited commercial success. I tend to be skeptical about these things, particularly, when we start reaching out where the oxygen in the air’s pretty thin, if you get what I’m saying.
The question I want to ask about this is, how quickly is this technology change, this decarbonization change going to happen really versus aspirationally? What does that mean in terms of hiring for capabilities development? Does that question make sense?
Carolyn: It does make sense. Going back to what you’re saying about digitalization, we say that clearly, of course, digitalization is proceeding regardless, but decarbonization and just like the pandemic actually are accelerators, really accelerate that process even more.
The question is, when do you get to that tipping point where everything is really going to very quickly accelerate? We see that now even if you just look at the latest data on investment in clean energy. This is the first year where it’s finally switched over. There’s more going into clean energy than oil and gas.
There’s more with all of the money going towards hydrogen hubs, the $8
million in DOE funding, and other provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act, those are all accelerators as well that really provide opportunities for utilities and other players to jump on that to be the first movers and see sudden acceleration, just like we saw on the power side with solar and wind.
Russel: This topic is really quite complex when you try to action it. Understanding strategically some of these drivers and what they’re pushing us towards and the needs they’re going to create, that, to me, is pretty straightforward. It’s pretty line of sight.
When you start going to, “Well, what does that mean in terms of what I’m hiring today and what I’m going to need to be hiring two years from now? What does that mean in terms of the way my organization is put together, and where do these capabilities live,” and all of that, that starts getting really challenging in my mind. My head blows up a little bit there, I’ll just say that. I guess I would ask what, what is your response to my reaction to that?
Carolyn: Actually, that was one of the surprising findings too, or rather not surprisingly to what you’re saying that we saw only a small percentage of utilities have aligned their decarbonization and workforce development plans.
There isn’t this holistic view of pursuing the two as this integrated strategy yet. I guess one way of seeing it is that a lot of the customers, they all have decarbonization plans too, and that’s really exploded as well, just the number of companies that have made commitments to get to net zero.
A lot of them are coming to their utilities now. As the years go and they’re coming up against the timelines that they’ve committed to, they’re coming to their utilities asking, I’ve made this commitment, I use X amount of gas, how can I turn this into net zero? Can you sell RNG to me? Are you doing hydrogen blending?
When big customers come with these questions, is utility going to be able to say, yes, we can help you. I guess if the utility has a decarbonization plan and has a workforce development plan, integrating the two will allow them to more often say, yes, when a customer comes to them with these requests.
Russel: Carol, that’s really a very interesting point to me, because when you start talking about…I’ll just talk about burner tip – power generation, steel, other kinds of energy, intense manufacturing, all that type of stuff. When you start talking about those things, you start asking the question about, how do you decarboni
se those types of things?
That is like, well the utilities are going to have to transform or they’re not going to be able to have services for their customers that are in alignment with what their customer is demanding. That is a different frame than maybe what I was putting on it as I’m first responding to what we’re talking about here.
Brad: Yeah. I would say, in addition to the fact that it’s the majority that don’t have a workforce development plan aligned to their decarbonization plan, a lot of utilities actually don’t have a full understanding of where learning and development happens
, the different parts of the organization.
Or, they may know, but there is not necessarily a clear mechanism to make decisions around L
ND across the whole organization. Even if you had a workforce development plan that is aligned to decarbonization, being able to drive that within the organization requires a tremendous amount of negotiation, decisions by committee.
I’m starting to see some utilities proactively take a look and get their hands around all the different types of learning activities, mentoring, apprenticeships, relationships, etc., that happened in every aspect of their operations, and start to try to figure out how they can better coordinate that in a more strategic way across the whole company.
That’s the first thing you need to do in order to then be able to drive a longer
Russel: I think you’re right, Brad. Given what I know about utilities and how quickly they move to do anything, I say this often on the podcast, is that pipeliners by their nature resist change because change is risk, and risk is challenging. One of our key roles is safety, keep the product in the pipe, get it to the burner, no place else.
Brad: 100 percent.
Russel: That causes decision making to be very deliberate, which is a good thing. Pipeliners tend to be very good at incremental change, continuing improvement change. They’re not that good at transformational change, and this is transformational change.
This is a whole new way to think about an entire industry. It raises some really interesting questions beyond just workforce and talking about the technical skills required, but what are the management and business development skills required to navigate and train a change like this? That’s pretty huge, too.
Carolyn: There are incremental aspects though to the transformational change. The hydrogen blending, you can start at lower levels and then go to higher levels, same with incorporating RNG over time.
What was interesting is one of the industry perspectives we highlighted in the report from Washington Gas
is, they’re part of a hydrogen hub proposal . The utility role in that is to set up and then run a workforce development center that will be a continual effort , that as issues arise, they’ll address them, train the workforce for those skills and really take very agile approach, recognizing that it’s unclear where exactly everything will go, what the pain points will be, and what skills will be needed. It needs to be a very flexible adaptable type of training program.
Brad: Even when you talk about some of the different management skills, I would say that goes all the way to pipeline crews and teams, because you’re going to be dealing with more generations now making up those teams with folks, we’re talking a little bit for the podcast, right around Generation Z, digital natives who consume this information almost since birth.
I look at my 18 and my 20
You’re going to get a lot of this reverse mentoring that’s happening or two
It could be really exciting, but I think it’s something that the utilities need to proactively think about. How are we going to make sure that they’re well equipped for having this diverse group.
Russel: It’s interesting. 15 years ago, we were having this exact same conversation about moving from pneumatic mechanical control to digital control, data collect boards to PCs, and all that stuff. Now, all of that’s ubiquitous.
There were guys who could take a screwdriver, set it up next to the pipe, put their ear on the screwdriver and they could hear what was going on with the mechanical control systems. Well, now that’s not as available to us. The whole technique is different. What we’re saying here is, there’s a whole
nother wave of this coming.
It’s not like our industry hadn’t done it before, but it’s both the same and different all the same time. Yeah, interesting. What do you think that pipeliners, particularly gas utilities, should be taking away from this conversation? You can answer it in general, and then I want to follow up and talk about, for the smaller public utilities, how do they get there? Because they have a bigger challenge.
Carolyn: The big takeaway is that the biggest risk is to not take any action. If you want to be prepared for a lower carbon future, now is a really good time to set ambitious goals and implement strategies, including workforce strategies to be able to reach them, to be able to serve their customers who are doing the same.
Not to mention all the policy changes as well that are increasingly requiring decarbonization targets.
Brad: I could not have said it better.
Russel: Well, I think we’ll leave it right there. Carolyn, Brad, thanks so much for coming on and adding your perspective. For those that are interested, we’ll take the actual report and we’ll get it linked up into the show notes. If anybody wants to go to the website, download it and read it, that will be made available.
Thank you, guys, again.
Brad: Thanks for having us.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Carolyn and Brad. Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit PipelinePodcastNetwork.com/Win, and enter yourself in the drawing.
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Transcription by CastingWords