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The Role of Reskilling in Utilities’ Future

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Karen Marcus's picture
Freelance Energy and Technology Researcher and Writer, Final Draft Communications, LLC

Karen Marcus has 25 years of experience as a content developer within the energy and technology industries. She has worked with well-known companies, providing direction, research, writing, and...

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  • Apr 7, 2022
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The power industry is facing many changes, including emerging technologies, changing customer expectations, and the increasingly urgent need to eliminate carbon emissions. Many of these shifts require utilities to rethink employee roles. For example, increased reliance on data puts utilities in the position of needing more workers who can understand, manipulate, and work with data to aid in a wide variety of initiatives and savvy decision-making.

While some new roles may be filled through hiring new employees, reskilling — the practice of retraining existing employees for different jobs — enables utilities to retain institutional knowledge and reduce the costs associated with the hiring process. In a recent Forbes Technology Council post, the author notes, “In 2022, forward-looking utilities will implement broad-reaching education and reskilling programs, helping their existing workforce effectively address the challenges of today’s power industry.” Let’s take a look at the specifics.

Focus on Technology

The energy industry has shifted from one involving primarily physical and engineering systems to one that is highly technical, and data-driven. Jobs that formerly didn’t exist are now essential to utility operations, including data analysts and data scientists, user experience (UX) designers, and specialists in artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR). Additionally, employees in every job function are expected to bring a higher level of digital literacy to their work. To address this issue, team members who may have spent some or all of their careers in other capacities are being retrained to better understand and work with technology.

Critical Non-tech Skills

Meanwhile, energy customers are evolving into prosumers who produce and even trade energy in addition to consuming it. Based on their interactions with other types of businesses, such as highly customer-focused retailers, customers also have higher expectations for a seamless and responsive customer experience (CX). As a result, utility customers require a different relationship with their utilities, creating a need for employees who can provide it. So, in addition to technical abilities, utilities are prioritizing skills like communication, analytical thinking, and decision-making to deliver the types of interactions customers want.

Reskilling Challenges

According to a survey recently conducted by a prominent consulting firm, a large majority of utility leaders recognize that the reskilling of workers in the coming years is critical to success. Yet, a much smaller percentage have a plan to do so. Challenges with reskilling, according to the survey results, include an inability to measure the gap between current skills and those needed, a shortage of trainers and teachers, trouble with developing effective curricula, and creating the infrastructure and culture change needed to support evolving roles.

Additionally, according to a recent POWER article, attracting talent is more difficult than ever. Digitally savvy workers have access to numerous opportunities and utilities don’t always offer the most compelling option.  

Though there are no easy solutions or one-size-fits-all answers, utilities can address these challenges with a proactive approach that includes the following strategies:

  • Prior to identifying needed skills, envision what will be needed to reach specific company goals.
  • Identify what skills will be required to meet those goals and determine how far off the current skill set is.
  • Identify transition pathways for current employees and in what cases new employees should be hired.
  • Determine what will be needed to train both existing and new employees in terms of resources and infrastructure.
  • Create a plan that prioritizes achieving the most critical skill sets first and working down from there.
  • Revisit the plan regularly and update it as needed.

A focus on employees and their skill levels is critical because, according to the POWER article, “Investments in technology, infrastructure, and service can only take a utility so far. Without organizational agility, employee expertise, innovation, and creativity, true and sustainable transformation is improbable.”

Has your utility created opportunities for employee reskilling? If so, what has been the result? Please share in the comments.

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