As utilities companies invest in renewable resources and grid modernization—two initiatives that need ample organizational buy-in and change—the workforce needs investment as well.
Many advanced workers in the utilities industry are set to retire over the next decade, according to Electric Energy Online, and companies need to have a plan in place to replace these skills.
This can be done in part through upskilling and reskilling.
According to an Ernst & Young report, the largest gaps in skills at utilities companies are in:
- Data analytics/science
- UX design
- Artificial intelligence
- Digital literacy
- Virtual reality
That same report found the vast majority of utilities executives realize that reskilling workers is “crucial to success,” but fewer than 60 percent of execs say their company has a fully fleshed out plan for reskilling. Outside of those aforementioned skills areas, there needs to be a plan to replace roles like technicians, engineers, and more.
And all of this comes as it’s become harder to find and retain talent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with younger workers staying at a company on average six to seven years less than tenured workers.
So let’s talk about the benefits of upskilling and reskilling your utilities workforce, then we’ll discuss some examples of what that looks like in the field.
Benefits of Upskilling and Reskilling
Upskilling and reskilling your workforce can help in a number of areas outside of simply filling a skills gap. These are some other areas it can help:
- Improves retention: Investing in your workforce with time and money increases overall satisfaction from employees. Workers are looking for jobs at companies who invest in their employees. see you’re committed to their personal and professional career growth, they often are more likely to stay at your organization for a longer period of time.
- Can be cheaper than hiring from outside the organization: Sometimes skills gaps can be closed by hiring outside talent. That can be expensive with the current wages required by the workforce. It can also take up a lot of time. The previous EY report found that successfully reskilling an employee takes an investment of just under $5,000. While that’s an average, there’s a chance that reskilling and investing from within ends up as a cheaper option than hiring from outside the organization.
- You have control over your skills gap: You know what skills your company needs. You also know what skills your company has and who is willing to learn new skills. Use that information to your advantage. You can attack skills gaps with intention if you know where gaps need to be filled.
- It modernizes your company: This is one of the more important benefits of upskilling and reskilling. With grid modernization a top priority, the workforce needs to modernize, too. Upskilling and reskilling help accomplish that, teaching employees the skills they need to do their jobs effectively and efficiently.
Examples of Upskilling and Reskilling Your Utilities Workforce
Now let’s bring these concepts to the field. What can upskilling and reskilling look like at your company? Here are some examples:
Teach Workers How to Perform Tasks with Smart Grid Technologies
Outside of simply replacing old hardware, one of the primary aspects of modernizing power grids is making them smarter. This means bringing the grid onto systems of “computers, automation, and new technologies” to make the entire grid work together and more efficiently. This is a total transformation from old processes and one that has seen the investment of hundreds of billions of dollars from utilities companies and the U.S government.
The workforce implementing these technologies need to know how they work before installing them, then they need to know how they work once they’re installed. Getting your workforce proficient with the skills needed to do this should be a primary pillar of any utility company’s upskilling plan.
Reskill Administrative Employees to Learn Data Analysis Skills
Many administrative employees have some level of experience with Microsoft Excel or other spreadsheet platforms. This base-level knowledge of working with numbers in an organizational way is a great starting point for teaching data analytics skills.
Administrative employees’ hard skills are typically easier to replace than finding enough data analysts to fill a skills gap, so with this type of upskilling, you’re making it easier on hiring managers to find talent to fill the organization, as well.
Upskill Trainers to Use Virtual Reality Technologies
As we mentioned, training your workforce how to install, use, and maintain new technologies is a core part of any grid modernization plan. The people who train your employees will need new tools and processes to teach the workforce. Virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) help with this. Upskill and reskill trainers to use these kinds of technology so they can implement company-wide training.
Not only will upskilling trainers in this area help train the workforce, these technologies can be more efficient at training because all parties don’t have to travel into the field to get training done, saving you money on some in-field training costs. (In-field training is still obviously necessary, but virtual reality and AR can help ease the need of full-in-field training.)
Train Technicians on Digital Literacy
Is it fair to expect a field technician to be proficient with new digital technologies if you haven’t provided that training? As the utilities industry becomes more digital by the year, it’s important to keep the workforce up-to-date with these technologies. This shouldn’t be a situation where you throw them into the water and hope they swim.
An upskilling opportunity for your utilities workforce is providing in-depth training with new technologies and systems and being equitable with the time and attention you’re giving to employees learning these new skills. A 30-year-old who grew up on the internet may need less intervention than a 55-year-old who’s worked with a similar manual process. Your upskilling and reskilling plan should be company-wide, but the plan gets great when the implementation becomes individualized.
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