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We Need to Work on Our People Skills

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Nevelyn Black's picture
Writer, Independent

Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

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  • Apr 26, 2022
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A survey by the Center for Energy Workforce Development predicted a mass exodus of an aging workforce and a lack of new incoming talent to replace those jobs.  The utility companies and the energy industry as a whole, are seeking ways to train, recruit and retain good talent.  These organizations ‘must keep the power flowing and lights on 24/7.  Failure to succeed in workforce development is not an option,’ wrote Peter Krammer, Senior Partner of management consulting firm, Okos Partners.  Krammer reviewed the results of one metro utility’s efforts to improve its workforce development strategies.  The initiative started at the end of 2019 and by the end of 2020 hiring rates were close to their targets and retention rates were up.  However, during exit interviews executives discovered that employees felt there were no opportunities to advance in the company and sought jobs with greater opportunities.  Krammer estimates the utility will have to replace two-thirds of its employees over the next 10 years.  

How can utilities compete with every other employer in the job market?  Recruitment programs with high schools, technical and vocational programs, military veterans, and not-for-profit organizations as well as providing training to new hires, is a significant investment.  Some have had the mindset not to provide apprenticeship programs for fear of talent walking out the door to work for competitors.  Mark Gambill, director of the electric department for the city of Kingfisher in Oklahoma refused to take that approach.  Instead he initiated training programs that provide employees free apprenticeship training and pays for employees’ journeyman training if they agree to stay with the utility for three years. The Anaheim Public Utilities Department (APU) in California offers an apprenticeship program and a mentor-mentee program to help employees.  “The program takes seasoned managers and pairs them with newer or other city folks. It gives an opportunity for some of the newer employees to engage professionally with more experienced employees, and talking about goals and successes,” said Melissa Seifen, communications supervisor at APU.

In Illinois, Ameren Corporation has been certified by Great Place to Work for the sixth consecutive year.  49 percent of employees have worked at Ameren for more than 11 years.  The company boasts their 50+ in-person and virtual training workshops, learning experiences, and assessments.  Ameren stated that its "unwavering focus on diversity, equity and inclusion" makes it an "ideal work environment" for anyone,” said Mark Lindgren, senior vice president, corporate communications and chief human resources officer for Ameren Corporation.

To improve retention, a thorough evaluation of diversity, equity and inclusion is essential.  In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Public Utility Commission wants utilities to report their ‘diversity’ numbers.  In an effort to increase diversity, the PUC approved a regulation that would require utilities to count employees by race, gender and minority-group status.  The PUC said it is not attempting to influence or direct utilities’ hiring decisions, but, “since a lack of diversity could cause operating deficiencies, resulting in an inability to compete with other large employers,” the commission wants to stay abreast.  Duquesne Light, the electric utility that serves parts of Allegheny and Beaver Counties, released its first public diversity and inclusion report last year.  Utilities will have to tread lightly as they strike a balance between reporting the numbers, respecting privacy and defining each box to check.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Apr 26, 2022

We often focus on how technology is changing the work utility professionals do, but societal factors are also evolving. We're going to see fewer lifelong employees who are loyal by default and instead we need to create an environment that makes them want to stay and want to attract top talent. Thanks for sharing!

Nevelyn Black's picture
Thank Nevelyn for the Post!
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