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Utilities Workforce Reality - Aging and Yet More Vibrant

A high-quality workforce is a tremendous asset to any Utility. And utility technicians, across the board, have a lot of experience and skill. The challenge to utilities is that this “asset” is older than the average workforce currently driving other U.S. industries. According to PWC, over 30% of Utility workers are within five years of retirement . PWC also reported that first-year turnover is high among the next-generation of utility field service professionals, and getting worse.

Utilities Median Age is High

Let’s briefly consider the data behind those statements, then discuss how mobile technology – no scratch that – the right mobile technology can help with both knowledge retention and skill retention…

First, if you look at the US Bureau of Labor Statistics showing the median age of workers across many industries, it’s clear that the median age ranges from 45.3 to 48.8 years old across the four utility sectors (yellow). Compared with the US average of 42.3 years, that is a big difference. 

And PWC shows that the rate at which Utility employees will be eligible for retirement is only increasing.

That means that we should be extending our congratulations to the thousands of Utility workers who will be able to retire. I can’t think of a more deserving group. They brought dedication and skill to the job every single day for decades. At the same time, though, we need to extend our collective support to the utilities that will be impacted by these retirements. They are now challenged to replace these valuable workers, both with hearts and heads.

Utilities retirement rates

There are many steps being considered and taken by utilities to attract and retain workers. But I’d like to introduce an additional perspective – a more strategic and focused utilization of mobile tools.

Younger workers are comfortable with modern technology, and expect its use at work. Furthermore, they expect well-written applications that are intuitive and matched to the task. Dispatch shouldn’t be an email with an address; it should be a GIS-enabled tool that calculates the best route AND knows the specifics of the destination. After all, that transformer may not be at an address, but rather 500 yards along a right-of-way. But that’s just one example of why utilities need to re-think how they capture, analyze and distribute data to mobilized workers.

As utilities are recruiting employees and selling them on the advantages of a career there, they will want to know if they’ll have access to modern tools for the job, such as software that supports the workflow running on tablets that provide outdoor viewability, protection from the elements and hazards of the job, and mobility (lightness, battery run-time, wireless capabilities). This will increase candidates’ comfort level in a new position and give them confidence that they’re making the right choice by working for that utility. Utilities’ investment in these mobile computing tools demonstrate utilities’ willingness to invest in its employees which, in turn, leads to career-long employee loyalty. Mobile tools keep workers happy, and happy workers are more apt to commit to a career with their current employer, rather than skate through a series of one-off jobs that secure a paycheck until better career-building opportunities come along elsewhere.

Plus, as PWC has noted:

“Younger workers also learn differently. They tend to be much more tech savvy—good news for the industry as smart-grid infrastructures and alternative fuels transform its rather staid, old-fashioned image. Even state of-the-art utilities, however, still need to be able to speak the language of today’s technology driven generation. And while some organizations have been experimenting with new digital technologies and e-learning approaches to attract and retain younger people, most still lack appropriate training skills and procedures. Training manuals in the form of three-inch ring binders and a classroom-based, instructor-led approach simply may not be attractive to a digital generation that wants to learn largely online and at its own pace.”

In other words, utilities need to match the right tool to the right worker . That is what I meant by recruiting the “hearts” of the next generation via mobile technologies.

So where do the “minds” come in? With the accumulated knowledge that more experienced, and retiring, workers possess. This knowledge needs to be available to the less experienced. And not, as PWC noted, via three ring binders! Yes, training is important, and can probably help get workers up the first 40% of their learning curve. But a great way to get workers moving swiftly up the curve is with mobile tools that directly support the workflow. Focus on the software applications that your workers depend on, and develop it to incorporate and streamline as many of the tasks and exceptions as possible. Younger workers expect their mobile devices to be intuitive and offer up the right information at the right time. For example, rugged mobile computers that are always connected and, therefore serving up the needed data at the right time and place, those “minds” can be saved and the new generation of workers can be just as informed and productive as the soon-to-be retirees.

This is my prescription for both sides of the aging Utility workforce: retain the knowledge of the retirees, give new recruits the tools they need to excel in their career. And it’s all thanks to the mobile tools you should (or could) have in your IT arsenal today.

Want to see how your Utility can preserve the hearts and minds of your workforce with mobile PCs?

I have the honor of speaking at DistribuTECH 2017 in San Diego about this topic. If you attend the conference and want to hear more, drop by room 24B on Thursday, February 2, 2017, 10:30am-12pm.

Session Overview

Utilitymon GO: Choosing the Right Field Device for the Right Job (#16890)
Utilities are challenged to select mobile solutions that will meet today’s needs without compromising future flexibility. This session will explore approaches from several utilities for selecting the right mobile devices for their use cases. And my presentation in particular will focus on “Which Technologies are Well-suited for Today's Transitional and Transient Workforce and Which Will Create More Issues for Utilities ”.

* As a bonus, Xplore’s Randy Denny will also be talking aboutKey Ways to Improve Service Effectiveness, Efficiency and Safety ” with those very same mobile solutions that you use to recruit and retain your workforce. Plan to attend his presentation on Thursday, February 2, 2017 from 8:30am-10am in room 24B (then stay for mine right after). 

Learn More about DistribuTECH

Blog Author: Bob Ashenbrenner
President of Durable Mobility Technologies, LLC.