How to Build the Smart Utility Workforce of the Future

Brian Lindamood, Questline

The only constant in our industry is change. Energy utilities have been on the leading edge of rapid technological advances in recent years, from renewable generation and AMI infrastructure behind the meter to consumer-driven smart home technology and electrification in front of the meter.  

What does all that change mean for the utility workforce? As in many industries, advanced digital skills are now required of workers in almost every role. From marketing and customer service to technicians in the field, all utility employees need to be prepared to answer customer questions and troubleshoot high-tech problems.  

There is work to be done. In one survey, 64% of senior utility executives said their workforce was only moderately prepared or not prepared at all for new technology. How can utilities catch up? Here are three examples from other industries that show how training programs and digital tools can prepare workers for the high-tech demands of the near future.  

Amazon trains warehouse workers for higher-skilled jobs 

You probably think Amazon is already a high-tech company! But most of the ecommerce giant’s 1.2 million employees actually work in warehouses or delivery. Amazon has invested $700 million in several programs to train 100,000 of those workers in skills such as software development, artificial intelligence and cloud computing. In the short term, this training is a valuable benefit for attracting workers; in the long term, Amazon is building in-house the skills it will need for future growth.  

What utilities can do: Retaining existing employees and developing new hires will be critical in the next decade, when up to 50% of the current energy utility workforce is expected to retire. A financial investment in training programs not only improves the digital skills of workers, it makes your utility a more attractive workplace.  

Digital fitness app makes tech training easy for PwC workers 

Management consultancy PwC is a taking a more bite-sized approach to the same problem. PwC’s internal “Digital Fitness” app boosts the high-tech skills of its workforce with interactive lessons that are minutes long, not hours. The goal is to make learning accessible and universal while avoiding the time commitment required of full-length courses.  

What utilities can do: Make it easy for employees to get digital training and avoid the intimidation factor that comes with months-long certification or degree courses. All workers can benefit from access to online training resources, digital learning platforms or internal webinars that keep skills sharp.  

UPS arms drivers with advanced mobile information systems  

In many ways, the transformation of UPS from a transportation company into a technology company mirrors the trajectory of energy utilities. UPS has outfitted its iconic brown trucks with sensors that collect millions of data points — and armed drivers with handheld computers — to streamline the delivery process and ensure that all stakeholders (sender, driver, recipient) have real-time data at their fingertips. 

What utilities can do: Your lineworkers and technicians are on the front lines with customers. Ensure that they have the technology and information they need to make those interactions successful. That may involve new hardware, like UPS’s purpose-built mobile computers, or it could be as simple as standard-issue smartphones that can access relevant customer data.  

Every industry is grappling with the high-tech skills required of today’s workforce. According to PwC’s Global Digital IQ report, digital training programs boost employee engagement and performance at 86% of top-performing companies. By investing in your own training and support programs, energy utilities will not only improve the skills of workers, you will improve the quality of service and engagement with customers.  

Brian Lindamood is AVP of Marketing and Content Strategy at Questline, a content marketing agency that provides solutions to energy utilities who want to build long-term relationships with their customers, increase program participation, drive customer engagement and grow customer satisfaction. 

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