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Five Tips for Recruiting Next Generation of Utility Workers

Mon March 27, 2023 - National Edition #7

Ensuring a skilled diverse workforce for electric, natural gas and nuclear firms has been the mission of The Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD) since 2006. (Utility Expo photo)
Ensuring a skilled diverse workforce for electric, natural gas and nuclear firms has been the mission of The Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD) since 2006. (Utility Expo photo)

A shortage of skilled workers in the utility industry is an ongoing problem that will be made more challenging by the large volume of work needed to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and a topic of conversation at the 2023 edition of The Utility Expo, Sept. 26 to 28, 2023, in Louisville, Ky.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed in 2021 includes $65 billion for upgrading the power infrastructure in the United States.

Ensuring a skilled diverse workforce for electric, natural gas and nuclear firms has been the mission of The Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD) since 2006. In 2021, they expanded this mission to include the workforce development needs of renewable energy, electric vehicle infrastructure, and energy storage.

According to CEWD's 2021 Pipeline Survey Results, more than 600,000 employees work in Investor-Owned Utilities (72.6 percent), Public Power (1.4 percent), and Rural Electric Cooperatives (26 percent). In 2021, the number of potential replacements for retirements and non-retirement attrition for the key jobs was forecasted to be 44,000 employees over the next five years. This includes lineworkers, technicians, plant/field operators, renewable technicians, and engineers.

Over the same period, approximately 15,000 nuclear jobs may need to be replaced, as well as 94,000 workers for corporate and other field positions.

Jonathan Farroni, a Recruitment Lead with a focus on utilities with Actalent, knows firsthand the challenge of recruiting in today's tight job market. Actalent not only recruits for utility firms but also provides contract workers and engineering services to the industry.

"People now have tons of options," said Farroni. "We have to sell candidates on why they should work for us."

Actalent currently has 750 employees in the utility space and is looking to add 300 to 400 workers to its staff this year. Farroni and Jon Hill, CEO of The Energists, a specialist recruiting and executive search firm operating exclusively in the energy industry, share their tips for recruiting the next generation of utility workers.

Differentiate Your Company Brand

With similar pay and benefits, Farroni believes utilities need to differentiate based on a strong company culture, exciting projects, and successful teams.

"We have to have a human touch," said Farroni.

"At the end of the day you have an employer brand and employee value proposition," said Hill. "When those two meet you have happy people in the workplace and others want to work there as well."

Since The Great Resignation, when employees voluntarily resigned from their jobs en masse in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, workers have shown greater interest in factors other than money.

"Not everybody changes jobs for more money" said Hill. "They are looking for a new way of working, remote work or hybrid work opportunities."

Start Early to Build Career Awareness

Both Farroni and Hill believe generating awareness for utility industry careers among high school and college students is effective.

"The best strategy is to engage at an early phase," said Farroni, whose firm conducts seminars and hosts lunches designed to build awareness of stem careers in the industry.

"Companies need to be intentional about reaching young people," he said.

In its 2021 report, CEWD advised utilities to expand career awareness initiatives among youth, low-income students, women, military and transitioning workers.

"Companies will be well-served to examine how they are presenting themselves to those unfamiliar with energy career opportunities," the organization said in its report.

One of the biggest pros of the utility industry is security and stability.

"It's very rare to see layoffs in this industry," said Farroni. "When you come into these organizations, you are going to have a career and long-term stability."

Focus On Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

Utilities need to continue their focus on diversifying their workforce. CEWD reports that women comprise 22 percent of the utility workforce, slightly lower than the previous survey, while minorities represent 24 percent of the workforce, an increase from the last survey. Farroni believes it's important for utilities to showcase the diversity of their leadership.

"We need to change the messaging to be more inclusive," said Hill. "Utilities can also look to outside resources to help achieve their diversity goals."

Emphasize Training, Career Growth

One of the biggest challenges for utilities is an aging workforce and the associated skills shortage that comes with it. In a tight job market, utilities may not be able to hire candidates who are an exact match for the position, but with the right training in place, they can potentially recruit candidates from untapped industries. Investing in training and development is an effective way not only to bridge the skills gap but to differentiate your business.

‘We have a whole platform to upskill our employees," said Farroni. "Training workers in new skills shows how we take care of our talent."

Given that a lack of upward mobility and personal development opportunities are key reasons why employees leave an employer, demonstrating a clear path for career growth will appeal to many candidates.

Support Your HR Team in Workforce Planning

According to Hill, utilities recognized as "best places to work" are giving their HR departments sufficient power to work on the brand and plan for the future.

Farroni also believes executive involvement is important.

"Our VP of Talent's job is to make sure our people are taken care of," he said. Similarly, CEWD recommends that workforce planning become a business imperative, prioritized at the highest levels of the organization.

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