How Utilities Can Attract and Retain Young Talent


Utilities are facing a number of challenges to attract and retain the talent they need for the future. While this reality is a major challenge, it also represents an opportunity for utilities to re-envision roles—and for an increased focus on the employee experience, writes 

Colleen Campbell, director in West Monroe’s operations excellence practice

Attracting and retaining utility talent poses a threat to the industry, but it also has created the opportunity for progressive utilities to reimagine how they attract talent.

According to our 2019 study, only 6% of leaders believe their utility adequately recruits younger technical talent and nearly half (48%) believe their recruiting may not be enough to meet future needs. However, 80% of younger non-utility workers view utility careers positively and nearly 70% of non-utility workers would consider working for a utility. Closing this gap requires coordinated marketing, cultural, and educational focus.

Utilities face several talent-related challenges

The challenge for utilities is retirement and a need to embrace digital skills to modernize the grid. After all, Baby Boomers are retiring at a rate of around 10,000 a day, and as such, younger workers aren’t able to replace them at an appropriate speed.

The need for newer talent with digital skills is heightened by the outdated technology and aging infrastructure slowing down the industry, especially in the face of climate-related disasters. Modernizing the country’s utilities infrastructure requires a robust workforce with strong technical know-how. Utilities need access to digitally savvy talent now more than ever. As emerging technologies such as battery energy storage, electric vehicles, and the Internet of Things (IoT) transform the industry, more technical skills are required across nearly every utility role.

Unfortunately, younger workers who possess highly desired skill sets are also being courted by big players such as Amazon, Tesla, and Google, adding further strain on utilities. While these talent challenges represent a considerable threat to the industry, they’re also creating much-needed conversations around the cultural and recruiting shifts required to propel utilities forward. Strategies such as university partnerships on campus energy projects allow companies to engage the communities they serve and form early relationships with potential future candidates.

Create an employee-centric culture

One of the best ways to attract younger talent is to create an employee-centric culture. The younger generation is social media savvy; they share good and bad experiences. If you are investing in positive and fruitful organizational changes, the younger generation will take notice.

According to our study, 52% of utility leaders listed employee experience as one of their top prioritiesOpens a new window compared with 78% who put customer service atop their list. But utility workers generally felt those leadership priorities should be entirely flipped. Clearly there is significant room for improvement.

Aside from the obvious increase in employee satisfaction that would result in improved talent acquisition and retention, better employee experience can also yield tangible business benefits. A positive employee experience not only improves productivity but also increases retention and improves morale which ultimately impacts customer service. So, how can utilities improve the employee experience?

  1. Investing in Workplace Technology: Utilities are modernizing power and supply systems, but they also need to update internal workplace technology. Investing in tools for collaboration, multichannel communication, analytics, community development, and remote work can boost overall employee efficiency, productivity, and job satisfaction.

    As utilities carefully consider what to invest in and when they must consider how to build awareness and understanding for these new platforms to ensure a more collaborative and communal environment. For example, a recent client struggled to turn interns into full-time employees primarily due to outdated technology and the ability to connect with them. Once the organization introduced a suite of collaboration tools with a strong focus on engagement, intern retention thrived. 

  2. Upskilling: As utilities embrace new technology, improve customer service efforts, and focus on becoming more efficient, upskilling employees has become a hot topic and one that is key to engage the younger generation mindset. An example is introducing robotics process automation (RPA) that typically shifts employees from manual tasks to more thinking roles. This requires more than training. It is shifting the organization to better align with strategy, helping employees embrace a new mindset, and educating employees on their changing roles and responsibilities.

    When upskilling is done well, this increases retention, fosters a more flexible and resilient workforce, and aligns with younger generations’ desire to pursue new areas of interest or advance further in their careers at their current organization.

  3. Values Alignment: Younger generations want to work for organizations that align with their values and where their role will have an impact on the future. While utilities can make a strong case for values alignment, they’re not telling that story. Utilities generally tout the financial stability and benefits that come with the job.

    While these features are certainly important, a key ingredient is missing from the narrative. Utilities give workers the opportunity to be a part of shaping a sustainable future, which can create a strong sense of community and worth among employees. That’s a compelling story to a generation that values meaningful work and global consciousness.

  4. Rethinking Recruiting Strategies: As utilities focus more on employee experience, it’s important to develop your recruiting strategy to mirror younger generations’ issues and highlight these changes. Bring younger employees to recruiting efforts that can speak to these changes. Additionally, innovative strategies such as university partnerships on campus energy projects allow companies to engage the communities they serve and form early relationships with potential future candidates and support values alignment.

People are the most valuable asset for any utility. Organizations must become smarter about the way they compete for and retain younger talent. While customer service remains critical, strategic cultural and structural investments will not only improve the employee experience but also ensure a future of technologically advanced utility workers.

Learn More: What Is Employee Retention? Definition, Strategies, and Ideas, With ExamplesOpens a new window