Energize the Brightest Team

Jennifer Wallace and her team find innovative ways to attract and retain top talent at NRG Energy, from social media to career-rotation programs

As industries shift and economies fluctuate, there is always a need for good talent, according to Jennifer Wallace, senior vice president of administration at NRG Energy Inc. Indeed, attracting and retaining top talent is a strategic advantage for the Fortune 200 power producer dual-headquartered in Houston, Texas, and Princeton, New Jersey. “We want to have the best talent across all of our businesses, all of our departments, all of our roles, so that we can deliver the best to our customers and we can continue to lead our industry,” she says.

Jennifer Wallace, NRG Energy
Jennifer Wallace, NRG Energy

Wallace, who was recently promoted from senior vice president of human resources, is still responsible for human resources and is passionate about the green-energy company’s talent. She says talent has always been a focus of NRG, and it has demonstrated that commitment to developing top employees. Externally, NRG uses rotation programs, internships, talent branding, social media outreach, and other innovative ways of attracting new employees.

Last summer, NRG hosted more than sixty interns across nearly every different function and business unit, including internal audit, environmental, marketing, and risk. Interns are typically rising juniors and seniors at colleges and universities—many of whom are asked to come back full-time after graduation.

NRG’s rotation program, “Power Up,” brings in recent graduates with bachelor’s and master’s degrees who go through three or four rotations lasting several months each. Participants are placed on a skills track that aligns with their career interest. Then they rotate through multiple roles within each area. The program is rigorous and offers participants an abundance of interaction with senior leaders, according to Wallace. Once they complete the program, they’re placed in permanent roles at NRG.

“We like to match the rotations . . . to the company needs, but also to the experience, skill set, and education of these rotation associates,” Wallace says. “So as an example, if the individual is coming to us with a finance degree, the track they pursue might include stops in treasury or commercial finance, and then on to financial planning and analysis.”

NRG’s HR department maintains a close relationship with communications and marketing. Wallace’s teams make special efforts to be in the job marketplace in a manner that reflects the brand and takes advantage of social media. They utilize Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Glassdoor to reach top talent. “You never know where you’ll find a great employee,” she says.

NRG is also developing a program to leverage its relationships with several sports teams and stadiums such as NRG Stadium—home to the Houston Texans football team—and other sporting events. It offers outreach events that target alumni, professionals, and campus groups to come learn about the stadium, team, and NRG as a company in an effort to attract talent.

Internally, NRG has several programs aimed at developing and retaining top talent. Its leadership-development curriculum has three tiers aimed at emerging, midcareer, and senior leaders. Training focuses on leadership and teamwork skills; how to support innovation in your team; how to develop a presence as a leader; and how to work with diverse groups of employees. The program not only offers terrific learning opportunities, but it also demonstrates NRG’s commitment to professional development, Wallace says.

As the company grooms and develops its employees, many of them seek opportunities for new roles within the company. NRG Gigs serves as the company’s internal talent marketplace website. It was created about a year ago in direct response to feedback from employees who wanted to know more about openings throughout the company. It helps employees take ownership of their own career development, according to Wallace.

The website also helps employees explore different business units, learn about special projects and career development tips, and share career milestones and success stories. The “Dig My Gig” video series features short video interviews with employees who share their background, what they do, and why they like their job. “It’s not just pushing information to employees, but they also participate, and they own and drive the content as well,” Wallace says. “It’s really been a great tool for us to highlight our employees and to help them see their career opportunities here.”

Employees also drive the content and activities for NRG’s “Women in Power” program, which focuses on mentoring and developing women in the traditionally male-dominated power industry. The group meets regularly for informational and networking events, and holds an annual internal conference where leaders speak on a variety of topics. Wallace plans to talk about work-life balance at this year’s conference.

Whether it’s developing and retaining existing employees or attracting new ones, NRG promotes itself as an attractive place to work. After all, energy really powers the world, Wallace says. “Today, you often hear about how new talent coming into the workforce—the millennials—want to do work that’s meaningful, and they want to change the world and have a positive impact,” she adds. “And I believe that the energy industry, and NRG in particular, is a great place for the new talent coming into the workforce to do that.”