We’ve been talking about the aging workforce and the loss of experiential knowledge in the utilities industry for years—since I started writing about the energy business nearly two decades ago. But, as the industry evolves, so does that particular employee discussion.
When we chat about workforce needs today, we’re not discussing so often the loss of experience with engineers aging out. Now, we’re talking about new skillsets that center around the concept of innovation.
Makes sense, right? If the utility industry is evolving, so must those people we see as the “next-gen” utility worker.
“The industry is changing and changing quickly. And that means the workforce has to change, too,” said Stuart Ravens, Principal Research Analyst at Navigant, as he introduced the session: Future Utility Workforce: How will different innovation strategies impact the utility workforce?
The European Utility Week session took place on the Initiate! area of the floor, which was aimed at students and new, younger engineers (and potential future utility employee).
Linda Jackman, Group Vice President at Oracle, followed Ravens on stage to bring in the latest pillar to change management, which circles back to that innovation idea, which is actually a rather recent one for utilities.
Jackman told the old Edison joke: That while Alexander Bell would never recognize his invention in today’s phone, Edison would still recognize his invention in today’s grid—but maybe not so much in the last few years. That’s shifting fast and shifting far as digitalization flows out through the industry.
Would Edison recognize his grid in 5 years? Probably not. Would he recognize the utility worker? Absolutely not.
So what does the new utility worker need to be jump into this innovation wave? First and foremost, they need a manager and a company that’s digital-first. Jackman gave an example of a Denmark utility that has already advanced heavily in the digital concepting, including the thinking that customers don’t want to talk to them. Customers want to text them or access their data on mobile. They want to solve issues online, not on the phone.
Now think about this: Your digital customer is also your future digital employee—if you want her (and you do). So, how do you get her?
Kedar Deshpand, co-founder and co-president of European Energy Students Network (EESN) had a few answers for the audience from a recent study they did on just this concept. Deshpand discussed a change at the utility that also involves just what they are looking for. Are you considering diversity? Are you considering both internal and external brand management? As he noted, the younger worker has a real need to connect with brand, to believe not just in the brand they’re purchasing but also in the brand they’re working for.
An audience member added in the concept that user experience and understanding what the digital customer wants is a skillset for the new utility employee is well.
“When you get to roles, I don’t think it’s about age though,” Jackman added into the end of the discussion, which had shifted to hiring practices, internships and millennials.
“It’s about talent. It’s about fresh views,” she said—that new utility employee could be 24 or 44 or 64. It’s essentially about attitude, not age. Are they innovative enough to be a valued member of your innovative utility team?
Editor’s note: Navigant and Oracle partnered on an innovation-themed project this year. To read more about that partnership, click here.