Energy Jobs in Japan: Maximizing Your Value in a Fast Evolving Market

Japan Energy Jobs

Last month, I touched upon how professionals in the energy space can enhance their value in the market, regardless of the inherent risk of whether or not their company is able to secure projects.

Some of the key takeaways were:

  • Take on roles that give you a wider exposure, rather than have a focus that’s too narrow.
  • Gain experience across multiple phases of a project, from early stage feasibility and due diligence, into bid preparation, later stage development and execution.
  • If possible, take on multiple work-streams to hedge your risk of being an asset attached only to a single project.
  • Collect small wins to put on your CV, whether this is signing an MoU with a business partner, getting investment approval, or developing smaller projects; real achievements count.

Today, let’s dig deeper into the topic of maximizing your value, both for the purposes of being recognized as a key asset for internal career development and making yourself a prime target for external opportunities.

Work widely, or work deeply?


There’s an age-old question of generalization vs specialization. This is a question that will never go away, and will always have arguments for and against. Let me say that the correct answer for the purpose of maximizing your value is to do both!

For highly technical and engineering-focused professionals, leaning toward specializing and working deeply is advisable. In order to effectively lead a key technical project or engineering package, a high level of technical understanding and expertise is required, and often we will see professionals who have the right academic background miss out on job offers because they have not spent enough time honing their craft and working on real products / projects.

On the other side of this, building some commercial acumen is a value multiplier. The engineer who can interface with the JV partner or the customer, who looks good in a suit and can speak with authority, will command much higher value than the genius in the lab.

As for commercial professionals, skills such as running an RFQ, negotiating a contract, and managing JV relationships will be more transferable across different segments of the energy industry. Therefore, a lean toward generalization opens up wider opportunities and allows you to shift with the market.
Do be mindful that gaining depth of experience and measurable results is key here. As an example, those who have spent a long time in advisory often struggle to move to the developer / owner side. Even though they have excellent high-level understanding, they’ve not had the chance to execute on contracts, manage relationships through tough times and critically lack the experience in influencing internal stakeholders and gaining approval from all necessary departments, which often have conflicting interests.

Scale versus complexity


An APAC head of a Fortune 500 company told me years ago when looking at business leaders: “never confuse scale with complexity – a $10 million business is not necessarily easier to run than a $500 million business”.

Consider the energy market with its various areas of transition, where many projects and technologies are still in early stages. Many BESS projects being developed are under 10 MW; floating offshore wind is at demonstration scale <30 MW; both blue and green hydrogen production are small-scale and figuring out the logistics; MHC or ammonia are all still under research.

The challenges in developing and commercializing that first small-scale BESS project, commissioning that first three-turbine floating wind farm, or shipping liquid hydrogen safely will not be dissimilar to subsequent projects which are orders of magnitude larger.

Influence decisions


The difference between the following bullet points on a resume is significant:

  • Analyzed all possible supplier solutions and provided a roadmap and recommendations to management.
  • Created a solid business case for optimal solution, gained investment approval and signed binding agreement with supplier.

One main focus in interviews with large, complex organizations is around how the candidate can manage internal stakeholders and support decision-making. A subject matter expert, whether internal or an external consultant who does quality work in analyzing the market, will hit a limit if their interface is only their manager or a single-point contact in the client organization.

Much more value is gained from presenting and defending a business case, gaining alignment across all stakeholders, and ultimately getting approval to move forward. The communication, logical thinking, problem-solving skills that are necessary to make this happen are all highly valued. This is not the exclusive realm of senior management either. Even for professionals in their 20s and 30s, getting themselves in the room and obtaining this experience makes a difference.

Global talent
Become a global talent


Japan imports roughly 75% of its primary energy; hence professionals in oil and gas tend to be quite globalized and used to partnering with overseas companies. The power side, though, has been a more domestic affair until the last decade or so due to the acceleration of renewables, and now, flexible assets such as energy storage. Investing in language skills builds a clear advantage for yourself as a professional, both as Japanese learning English and vice-versa.

Beyond language, gaining experience in markets other than Japan can boost your longer-term career value. Most multinational companies view APAC as the growth region to invest in – rather than Japan as a single country market. Hydrogen and ammonia, for example, will not scale with the value chain in Japan alone; it will require a regional approach.

Renewable power generation investments are also subject to priority shifts from a HQ perspective depending on policy shifts, geopolitical risks, market economics, etc. By gaining experience working on projects or markets outside of the home shores of Japan, you can hedge your risk of potential market exits, and longer term position yourself as a competitive talent for wider-ranging regional positions.

What can you do now versus what can you do anytime?


Japan can be elitist, and some job changes can be more of a one-way street than in other countries. The major trading houses are very often someone’s first company, very seldom someone’s fourth. The move from the developer / owner side to a consulting / advisory role is relatively easy compared to the move back.

There are exceptions to every rule, of course, and each case is up to the individual and the stakeholders in the hiring company. As a general rule, however, while you may gain more valuable experience moving to a smaller or less prestigious firm, making the move back to top-tier companies later on means greater pressure on you to perform, gain maximum value, and then communicate it into a clear and compelling story.

When considering a move, whether as an internal department change, a secondment to a subsidiary or an external shift, it is important to think about your career value and potential exit plan at 3.5-year and 10-year intervals in the future.

In summary, the energy market is diversifying, and the pace of change is accelerating. Japanese firms are investing more globally, and Japan is becoming a more attractive investment destination for foreign capital again.

Putting yourself in a position to ride the waves of change by diversifying your skill set, banking measurable achievements, investing in skills including languages, and strategically stacking your skills / experience is the best way to add long-term value to yourself as a professional.


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