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Utilities Struggle With Labor Shortage

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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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  • Feb 15, 2019

As older workers retire, many utilities are finding it difficult to replace them, and to attract employees with the skills needed to advance a 21st century industry. According to T&D World, Airswift and Energy Jobline found in a survey of over 17,000 professionals that “48 percent of power professionals are concerned about an impending talent emergency, with 32 percent believing the crisis to have already hit the sector and 38 percent reporting that their company had been affected by skills shortages.”

A Generational Transition

The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) reports that, according to one study, the industry will “need 105,000 new workers in the smart grid and electric utility industry by 2030, but expects that only 25,000 existing industry personnel are interested in filling those positions. The remaining 80,000 employees in this supply-demand mismatch will need to be filled through recruiting and training. However, the industry is not expected to meet the forecasted need with its current recruitment and training rates.”   

Hiring Challenges

The DoE QER states, “Industry hiring managers often report that lack of candidate training, experience, or technical skills are major reasons why replacement personnel can be challenging to find…. This lack of experience can, in part, be attributed to hiring slow-downs in the 1990s and 2000s that have resulted in a current shortage of mid-career professionals with the experience to take on supervisory roles.” This problem is exacerbated by the timeframes needed to train new workers. “Even if enrollment in apprenticeships and training programs increased today, sector employees would not be ready to enter the job market until several years from now.”

In addition, unlike companies in industries such as technology, utilities have a reputation for being stodgy and resistant to change, making it difficult to attract younger talent to replace outgoing retirees. Yet, many of them are creating the energy industry of the future. A Deloitte paper states, “Advances in smart grid, distributed generation, microgrids and energy storage are revolutionizing the energy business….”

Strategies for Attracting New Talent

Deloitte recommends four major areas for utilities to focus on to improve chances of attracting younger employees:

Rebranding. Take steps to change perceptions of the industry, such as “having minimal development opportunities, out-of-date working environments, and poor performance awards.” Utilities can leverage the important role they play in society, and being “innovators with a social conscience,” concepts that are important to many millennials. Of course, any messaging should be shared via channels, such as social media, where younger workers spend time.

Talent development. Create programs to ensure successful onboarding, training, succession, leadership, and knowledge transfer. For example, training programs can be updated to “be more dynamic and occur on the job through mentorship, shadowing, and/or developing a more established rotational program.” In addition, “to create a strong leadership development culture and strategy, organizations should focus on building versatile leaders earlier in their careers through training and mentoring.”

Workplace transformation. Create an environment that younger workers feel comfortable in. One critical change is a move away from a cube farm layout. “Companies around the world are transitioning from cubicle farms to open-floor concepts and free-flowing atmospheres.” In addition to using less space, “these redesigned spaces can also enable high-impact connections between employees.” Allowing employees to take advantage of mobile technology to work a flexible schedule is another way utilities can create a competitive professional environment.

Performance management and rewards. Review your company’s compensation and benefit package to be sure it’s in alignment with what younger workers are looking for. For example, “Increasing the frequency of conducting feedback sessions will be a particularly important component to build into the new performance management model for utilities as they try to appeal to Millennials and a younger workforce.” In addition, “to remain competitive with other industries, rewards should be tailored to different employees and feature creative methods to recognize accomplishments.”

As utilities struggle with a shortage of labor, there are many challenges to overcome, but also many opportunities to improve operations and become welcoming for future generations.

Is your utility experiencing a labor shortage? If so, do you expect it to worsen? What steps are you taking to address it? Please share in the comments.

John Simonelli's picture
John Simonelli on Mar 29, 2019

With all due respect to Deloitte there is a better way to get job candidates.  First, invest in your local Universities by supporting their engineering disciplines including sponsoring a Capstone program.  Second, invest in interns. Bringing in interns and exposing them to our industry has multiple benefits. It gives the utility a chance to introduce them to what we really do, iot allows the utility to train the next generation of engineers so they’re ready to hit the street running upon graduation and last, the word will get back to the University that this is a great profession to be in which cultivates future interns. The utilities also must be very proactive.  If you've got a good intern who has come back for 3 summers, maybe over winter breaks and even some part time work during the school year, hire them! My former employer would routinely take those cream of the crop interns and make them permanent job offers over there Christmas break of their senior year thereby locking them up before anyone else could snatch them away.  

Karen Marcus's picture
Karen Marcus on Mar 29, 2019

Excellent suggestions, John. Thanks for your thoughts. 

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