Utility Week

UTILITY Week 2nd October 2015

Utility Week - authoritative, impartial and essential reading for senior people within utilities, regulators and government

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24 | 2ND - 8TH OCTOBER 2015 | UTILITY WEEK Conference Utility Week HR Conference, Birmingham, September 2015 Operations & Assets Take note of HR Utility companies are only as good as the people who work for them, so recruiting and retaining the right staff is imperative. U tility companies need to be in the driv- ing seat of talent development if they want to avoid rapidly approaching skills gaps. They must draw in new talent and make the personal and professional growth of employees "business as usual". This was the conclusion of Utility Week's HR Forum, a conference sponsored by Interaction, which took place in Birming- ham last month. Speaking at the event, Energy and Effi- ciency Industrial Partnership chief operat- ing officer Kate Davies reminded delegates that 208,000 new employees will be required in the UK utilities sector within ten years. Fiy per cent of current employees will have retired by 2023. A chronic skills shortage is looming. A job in utilities used to be seen as a job for life, but not any more. Today's talent pool has different expectations, said Davies, and she urged delegates to ensure that some deep-rooted practices such as inflexible entry routes were not barriers to entry. Being employer of choice leaves no room for HR processes based on a logic of "we've always done it that way". The UK skills gap is not helped by the fact that those skills in demand by utilities are also in demand globally. Davies advocates a "renewed focus on the youth", reaching into schools to change per- ceptions of the sector. Severn Trent's head of internal communication Simon Harris high- lighted how utilities' "legacy" can be used as a "hook" to draw in new talent, inspiring What they said people to feel "proud" of the infrastructure and services they can help to maintain. Critically, this approach must also be used to retain workers, Harris said, urging his audience not to be complacent about the need to keep people engaged once they have been recruited. New recruits demand flexibil- ity from their career path, said speakers, the flexibility to switch between companies and the flexibility to progress. Delegates heard about many schemes being run by companies to address this challenge, such as: the intern programme by National Grid in partnership with Inter- action Learning and Development; Thames Water's active career management scheme; and United Utilities' in-house training cen- tre. These programmes allow talent to be "grown", fulfilling both employee expecta- tions and the requirements of companies. At the other end of the skills challenge, delegates heard the importance of using social channels within the business to "bot- tle" the knowledge and skills of outgoing, experienced employees before they are lost forever. The challenges facing HR managers are sizeable, and potentially costly. Boards will need to be convinced that a focus on people makes business sense. But not all solutions need to cost the earth. Many speakers were in agreement that just listening to employees and ensuring they have basic equipment to make them comfortable while carrying out their work (such as good quality waterproofs for field workers) can impact retention rates. Simon Harris, head of internal communication, Severn Trent "We talked to our people to find what the hook is, and there is a hook around legacy. There is some- thing about being a custodian of a net- work that can inspire people, and that can apply to water, gas and electricity. "We at Severn Trent are just custo- dians of the network, we take it, we love it, we invest in it, we fix it and we grow it. When you've got that around people's heads, they feel proud of it."

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