No, but you're doing more in fewer hours.
While utilities continue to pare staff to skeletal levels, the latest labor statistics indicate that employees, though increasingly more productive, are working fewer hours per week.
A comparison of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' December 1997 and preliminary December 1998 statistics indicate that while staff levels continued to decline at electric, gas and sanitary utilities, employees who remain are working 2 percent fewer hours per week. Average weekly earnings, though up from $603.77 to $607.23, or 0.57 percent, continue to be outpaced by inflation. Yet despite their shrinking pay and work week, BLS statistics show that between 1987 and 1996, gas and electric utility employees increased output by an average of 2 percent annually.
A look at the employment and productivity levels for the investor-owned electric utilities provides some perspective. Despite electric department cutbacks of 24 percent from 1986 to 1998, electrical output at IOUs has steadily risen, reports the Edison Electric Institute in Electric Industry Key Trends. Productivity, as measured by gigawatt-hours generated per electric department employee, rose 61 percent between 1986 and 1996, according to EEI. Total revenues per electric department employee at IOUs were up 88 percent during that time.
The trends are in line with Avista Corp.'s experience, says Dan Suttner, director of human resources for the Spokane, Wash. electric and gas utility. Suttner points to better efficiencies as the force behind his company's increased productivity.
As an example, he cites Avista's natural gas properties in Oregon. "We've owned [the division] since 1991 and since then, it's grown 50 percent with the same number of employees," says Suttner. The rapid customer growth was possible, he says, largely due to marketing service additions to existing gas mains. "The more customers we have on those mains, the more efficient we can be."
Another effort to increase efficiency is the utility's more effective use of construction crews, to avoid downtime during slack months. And in its call centers, Avista has implemented a computer system to better route incoming calls and a flex hours program to increase coverage during peak periods. In general, says Suttner, "We're trying to better streamline the entire process, from the new customer call through to providing service."
Suttner says his company's focus on improved efficiency will continue, and predicts the industry trends will as well.
For more information, access the BLS website at http://stats.bls.gov/opbhome.htm.
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