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3 Ways the Power Industry Can Steal Some of Silicon Valley's Recruiting Thunder

Heidi Vella

Power industry recruitment is reaching a tight spot. Here's how utilities can best compete with tech firms to onboard the country's top talent.

An aging workforce ripe for retirement and tense competition for a small pool of top talent is putting pressure on US power industry recruitment. This is perhaps why, as a recent Platts article states, the US "utility sector's unemployment rate in February, at 0.9 percent, represented a three-year drop of almost 79 percent."

Despite this tightening in the jobs market, energy organizations still need to reach more recruits and adequately convey that the energy industry is one of the most exciting sectors to work in, due to its ongoing transition from industrial to digital and from fossil fuels to low-carbon energy. But how can they express this thrilling sense of an industry in flux, as well as the huge potential for young graduates who want to carve out a career for themselves? Here are three ways to renew your plant's recruitment efforts.

1. Take a Brand-New Approach to Branding

According to the US Department of Energy (DOE), in the twelve months preceding January 2017, 73 percent of employers across the sector had difficulty hiring qualified workers to replace employees on the cusp of retirement. Twenty-six percent noted it was very difficult.

As US-based PA Consulting notes: "The problem . . . is that college graduates aspire to work at Google, Goldman Sachs, and Microsoft . . . Simply, the utility 'brand' is not strong enough to attract the people the industry needs the most."

The DOE report also notes that power industry workers are disproportionately older: Twenty-eight percent are over age 55, compared to the national workforce average of 22 percent.

Millennials are already the largest generation in the labor force, according to Pew Research Center, closely followed by Generation X. It's these groups that power industry recruiters need to attract. In terms of clean energy and innovation, both might be aware of Tesla and Elon Musk, but there's only a slim chance a given Millennial or Gen X-er will be well acquainted with their utility or local power plant. This must change.

In its Positioning Utilities to Win the Battle for Talent report, Deloitte recommends utilities develop a brand that emphasizes the energy sector's critical role in society and contribution to local communities. This role becomes even more vital during disaster recovery, as recent hurricanes Florence, Harvey, Irma, and Maria demonstrated.

How should utilities share this message? Deloitte suggests focusing on three key areas:

  • traditional market channels
  • online platforms
  • internal marketing

Companies should also use "interactive social media campaigns, sponsorship of local events or teams, and customer feedback sweepstakes" to develop a community-oriented brand, adds Deloitte.

One successful example is Blackbridge and E.ON's graduate campus campaign, which hit all the right notes by illustrating a disastrous world where climate change went unchecked and another, better world, where sustainable energy thrived. The campaign won two award nominations and resulted in an increase in recruitment for E.ON.

2. Highlight Sector Technology and Innovation

Millennials and Gen X-ers are digitally savvy and exactly the right people to help the power sector transition to industry 4.0.

Companies compete to win best-place-to-work surveys, and digital-centric ones usually come out on top, but utilities don't exactly scream innovation and digitization. Therefore, to attract and retain workers from these generations, the energy industry needs to digitize quicker—and louder.

For greater success in power industry recruitment, plants must highlight the type of tech that's becoming standard in the sector, such as:

  • Drones for inspection
  • Internet of Things for monitoring and maintenance
  • Cloud technology for sharing of data, in the office and out in the field
  • Blockchain for energy trading
  • Augmented reality for infrastructure design

The industry may have not fully embraced all of this technology yet, but recruiters must let graduates know about it. Recruiters may even articulate that graduates themselves can aid tech adoption.

3. Be Proactive and Think Outside the Box

"I find many companies today are sending out job descriptions to large job boards, and then they sit back and wait for responses," Bob Anderson, vice president for business development at Tenaska Power Services, told Platts. "I don't believe the companies that are relentlessly and creatively seeking talent are having trouble finding qualified young people."

Quite simply, energy companies need to be more proactive, and this involves grabbing students' attention at middle-school age, not just at university-graduate job fairs.

Some firms have started to do this. Duke Energy, for example, has interactive displays, exhibitions, and centers available to the public and aimed at kids at its energy assets across the country, as well as a virtual energy center online. Commonwealth Edison last year ran an ice box derby aimed at encouraging young girls to pursue STEM careers, by showcasing the role that renewable energy and technology play throughout the events.

Companies can go one step further. As PA Consulting states: "Utilities should make it one of their corporate priorities to attract and retain talent across all generations . . . offer internships, apprenticeships, and other programs as alternatives to traditional education."

In addition to focusing on diversity in terms of age, gender, and ethnicity, utilities should look to recruit from different sectors, such as the military and mining. These personnel will likely have mechanical and engineering expertise that's much sought after in the power generation sector.

Unlike mining and military roles, the power sector can offer job security that isn't cyclical, but steady and growing. The fact that it's also embracing the digital revolution and is open to innovation should position it well in a challenging job market. Energy companies that can convey these benefits best will be the ones that manage to overcome the current tightening of the talent pool.

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