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21st Century Talent

Building a workforce for today’s utility landscape.

Fortnightly Magazine - December 2010

Like many other long-established industries, the utilities sector is facing an aging workforce and an upcoming employee exodus as its core workers in both management and the physical work force approach retirement age. This is causing an unprecedented focus on the industry’s HR function, which must now compete for a pool of young, technology-savvy employees, many of whom are attracted to what they perceive as more lucrative and cutting-edge industries, such as high-tech and defense.

Utilities are already struggling with integrating and managing a multi-generational workforce with very different professional expectations. As the utility workforce transitions from being dominated by more mature traditional and baby boomer workers to the so-called generation X and generation Y age brackets, the industry must change or replace practices and support structures that were designed to manage and address the needs of those earlier generations.

Many utilities are already addressing this challenge, but many have just started, or have yet to start, understanding how they will be impacted by this challenge and how they will address it.

At the same time, utilities are implementing innovations such as smart grid, alternative fuel, and new nuclear generation technologies, which require them to have the skills and resources in place to successfully implement and sustain these innovations. This makes the utilities industry a potentially attractive career choice for young workers. But utility companies must shed their stodgy image characterized by outdated technologies and a hesitancy to change if they want to appeal to the next generation of talent.

Too often, potential employees perceive utilities as dominated by poles, wires, and coal, and they are turned off by the less attractive, non-urban locations of many utility companies and facilities. Utilities can best attract a new generation of employees by emphasizing the transformational inflection point the industry now faces, and the immense opportunity it creates. New skills are needed to manage these technologies and meet the leadership challenge of taking a diverse workforce through substantial changes in the way the day to day work will get done.

Multi-Generational Workforce

Individual companies must learn to market themselves as part of a technology-intensive industry that presents its workers with challenging career opportunities and safe, friendly, and flexible work environments that give back to the community. The next generation of employees isn’t wooed by the promise of life-long employment and generous retirement benefits. Gen Y alone is equal to or slightly larger than the baby boomers in terms of absolute numbers, and is much larger than the gen X population. They value challenging, family-friendly work environments over stable, steady salaries. They look for non-traditional work arrangements, including flexible hours, shorter schedules, and telecommuting options. They fully expect to work in multiple companies during their career and plan to move on to other opportunities whenever they are no longer challenged or advancing. They want employers that are environmentally conscious and active members of their communities. They want to be part of

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