How to Attract and Retain the Next Generation Utilities Workforce

With nearly half the utility industry's workforce reaching retirement age this decade, and a full quarter opting for retirement now - utility providers are facing the largest retirement wave in history.

This is a seismic shift and attracting the next-generation, millennial workforce will present significant challenges. Ultimately, it will require utilities to rethink their workforce as a whole.

Employee turnover is costly in both time and money. Studies show that the average cost to replace a full-time employee is between 6-9 months of their salary.

Proactive hiring strategies will find the most traction, and to be successful - utilities need to start now.

As workers retire, the utility grid ages rapidly

The United States utility grid is among the great engineering achievements in history. Astronaut Neil Armstrong - the first human to set foot on the moon - is reported to have said that the electric grid was an even more significant feat.

However, even the greatest inventions reach their twilight years - the utilities grid is no exception. In fact, in 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the grid a D+ rating.

But why is the aging grid important?

The grid's decline is happening in tandem with the largest utilities retirement wave to date.

In the coming years, maintenance will no longer be enough. Upgrades and replacement will become increasingly necessary: requiring even more skilled labor.

Upgrading the grid and hiring the next generation workforce must go hand-in-hand.

Why Higher Education Has a Negative Effect on Utility Hiring

Young professionals, including Millennials and Generation Z, are the most educated workforce group in history.

a stack of books, diploma, graduation hat, and computer

Ironically, this has proven problematic for utilities and other industries in the built world. In fact, 72% of energy employers have experienced difficulty finding qualified candidates for vacant positions.

Historically, line and field crews were educated and trained in vocational or trade schools. With added on-the-job training, the utilities industry was able to build a highly skilled workforce: one able to manage tens-of-thousands of physical assets.

But vocational training has become less popular and the traditional pipeline has narrowed.

Utilities therefore face fierce competition - trying to attract an increasingly educated workforce to roles traditionally qualified through alternative education paths.

The good news? Younger generations are more excited about new technologies than any generation before and are set to become the driving consumer force behind alternative energy.

This in mind, it’s important to understand the next generation as both savvy consumers and competitive potential hires.

Millennials Are Digitally Native, Savvy Consumers

Anyone born after 1990 can be characterized as a digital native, meaning digital tools and technologies are second nature.

Digital natives grew up using technology and the internet from a very young age. They are comfortable, competent, and expect to use digital solutions in the workplace, at home, and well... everywhere.

a computer with voice-bubbles and videos

Digital natives demand control and customization in every aspect of their lives. 95% say they would not sign up with an energy provider if it could not provide seamless service.

As consumers of utility services, they expect:

  • Two-way communication
  • Energy choice and supplements to traditional delivery models
  • Rate customization and automation based on their use habits

These expectations shouldn’t be taken lightly. With nearly half the world’s buying power coming from millennials and Gen-Z by 2022 - they are, indisputably, the new drivers of the economy.

next generation workforce white paper

What Millennials Want from their Employers

A focus on sustainable, green energy

Younger generations want to be the early adopters of new utilities technology and services.

a green cable and plug turning into a leaf

Roughly 87% of next-gen customers express a desire for distributed energy resources. A study by Yale’s Climate Change Communication program found that millennials are willing to pay twice as much as their parents for green energy.

Utilities can leverage this desire to attract younger generations to their organization.

For example, nearly 40% of millennials say they are willing to take a pay cut to work for an environmentally responsible company: compared to just 17% of baby boomers. And, 70% of millennials say they would be more likely to stay with a company if it has a sustainability agenda.

Integrating new energy sources and updating brand messaging will go a long way towards attracting the younger, incoming workforce.

Professional growth with certification and upskilling

By 2022, an estimated 133 million jobs - many of which are in utilities - will require upskilling. Consider also that 87% of millennials say job growth through certification and skill-based training is highly important.

a certificate being handed out of a computer

Taken together, these trends represent a significant opportunity for utilities.

The industry is full of skill-based milestones. Rather than limiting training to onboarding, utilities should consider ways to break the process down into discrete skills that can be labeled and certified.

This is referred to as micro-learning and it is creating a “New Collar” workforce - one that blurs the lines between traditional blue and white collar work.

In other words, a college degree is only one kind of credential for 21st century workers.

Younger generations want proof of their achievements both for satisfaction in their current job, and as a potential accolade when looking for the next.

By providing robust skills training and certifiable milestones, utilities can capitalize on a clear desire for demonstrable professional growth.

The widespread use of digital tools in the field

Digital tools help bridge the skills gap: facilitating knowledge transfer between one generation and the next. In the coming years, this will be vital for utility hiring and retention.

a mobile device and website being constructed

Think of all the information a senior employee has in their head as they walk a job site or complete an inspection task. Only a small fraction of that information will make it into a document or email.

Cloud platforms catalogue hundreds of data points and document legacy knowledge every time a field team is dispatched. Plus, the technology has come a long way towards offering simple, intuitive user experiences.

By 2025, more than 50% of field service management deployment will utilize digital knowledge sharing tools, creating new ways to connect old and new.

If shadowed by trainees with smart devices, senior employees can impart decades of experience and create a lasting record for future hires. Additionally, new employee onboarding can be streamlined: lasting from 48 hours to one week.

Digital tools facilitate effective knowledge transfer, signal modernity within the sector, and enable a familiar day-to-day workflow for the incoming next-gen workforce.

Next steps

Even as utility providers retool their hiring practices, technology solutions and consumer habits will continue to evolve. The key, therefore, is to recognize that change will continue to be a defining factor of the industry.

Viewing candidates in terms of their cultural context will help align hiring practices, while digital technologies will enable effective knowledge transfer from one generation to the next.

We are one generation away from a workforce that is 100% digital natives.

The solution cannot simply be replacing the outgoing workforce. Providers must work to build the utility workforce of the future: continuing the tradition of trade skills while leveraging a robust network of digital tools.

Read the full white paper to learn more about attracting and retaining the next generation utilities workforce.
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