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  • Combatting the Utility Skills Shortage

Jobs in the energy industry are expected to nearly double to 3 million by 2020. Yet, 72 percent of energy employers are having difficulty finding quality candidates to fill their positions, as they grapple with an aging workforce and a growing skills shortage.

Legacy knowledge and understanding built up over years of utility experience resides with employees who will soon be leaving the workforce – over one-half of the current utility workforce will be eligible to retire in the next 6-8 years. Not only is there a disproportionate number of aging workers nearing retirement, but there is a declining pool of college graduates equipped with the skills needed to maintain progress and innovate in the smart grid sector. When utilities lack workers with the necessary expertise, the challenges they face become even more difficult.

Over the last 20 years, many utilities have not been engaged in expanding or developing their workforce. Several factors contributed to this, including the fact that historically utility employees will often work with one company most of their careers, making utilities less prepared to handle rapid turnover. Additionally, in the last 15 years, colleges and universities have seen a 50% decline in the number of graduating engineers, one of the many skill sets a utility requires. As a result, the skilled utility workforce is rapidly dwindling as experience and highly technical skills built up over decades resides with employees preparing to retire and recruiting new workers with the right skills continues to be a challenge.

Meanwhile, utilities are facing a fairly radical set of business conditions forcing them to greatly change their behavior – the smart grid model isn’t just transforming their operating model, but their entire competitive landscape. This evolution will require new skill sets to meet new focuses on IT, distributed resources, and customer interaction.

While utility companies are taking action to address the impact of the aging workforce, utility employees continue to retire in significant numbers. Many companies understand how the aging workforce will negatively affect their operations, but they struggle with how to address the changes. A solution some utilities may not have considered yet could be the one to save the day: outsourcing and consulting services.

Outsourcing operations play a key role in addressing workforce attrition and allowing utilities to meet the needs of a quickly evolving energy landscape. Outsourcing services allows utilities to rely on a trusted advisor and partner to assist with certain operations which will enable them to focus on their core business and keep the lights on for their customers. Consultants can provide utilities with industry expertise on smart grid issues and how to manage projects that are beyond staff expertise, assess technical issues, plan for the future, and comply with current regulation.

As the utility industry continues to grow and evolve, utilities will be forced to pivot and will face challenges along the way, including recruiting and retaining a skilled workforce. By tapping into resources from third-party partners, utilities can augment existing field teams and support the current workforce, allowing them to focus on providing sustainable, flexible and resilient power to their customers.

Andrew Bennett is the Senior Vice President of Energy at Schneider Electric. With over 16 years of experience in the utility sector, Andrew oversees the Energy Business in the United States, including the Oil & Gas and Utility segments at Schneider Electric.

This article was written by Jared Anderson from Breaking Energy and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.