Engineering the workforce of the future

Transmission may be the backbone of the electricity industry, but the backbone to the industry's success is the workforce behind it. And as we in public power know, that workforce is shrinking.

The industry was facing significant workforce challenges as early as a decade ago, according to the Center for Energy Workforce Development. And it isn't just because of the aging workforce. Rapidly changing technologies make workforce planning more unique and challenging for utilities. The number of 18- to 32-year-olds in the workforce is trending upward, but to stay on that trajectory, we need the right jobs and the right plan for them.

Here's a four-step schematic for engineering the workforce of the future:

Cultivate Camaraderie
We can't think about the next generation without taking a good look at the existing one. Many energy industry veterans have a lot to give before they retire - and a lot to learn, starting with the new technologies emerging in the industry. The next generation may quickly take to something an industry veteran needs special training for. At the same time, seasoned energy professionals have institutional knowledge and years of leadership experience they can share with newcomers. Pair up the veterans and newbies to learn from each other. Try creating a mentoring program to pair new entrants or interested students with industry leaders.

Engage in Education
Don't wait until students are looking for jobs to introduce them to public power. Public power has the advantage of being a part of its community. Utilities can engage students in any number of ways, including through the American Public Power Association's Demonstration of Energy & Efficiency Developments scholarship and internship programs. You can get a grant to help you sponsor a STEM program or create an energy education curriculum. There's plenty to learn from your peers in DEED.

Decode the Dream Job
Sophisticated, tech-savvy, flexible - sound familiar? But the next generation in the workforce isn't just tech-obsessed. While millennials gravitate toward new technology with fervor, they're also passionate about social causes. This makes them ideally suited for meaningful work in connected communities, just like the communities public power serves. Make sure prospective employees know just how much good your utility does in your community.

Mirror Your Community
Diversity in the workforce can be difficult to define. For us in public power, it means our workforce should reflect the communities we serve, which are growing, changing, and becoming more vibrant and diverse. Mirroring this demographic in the workforce ensures that public power utilities will be in tune with what their communities need. Following the lead of your public power peers, creating an employee resource group to gather staff with similar backgrounds could be a good place to start.