Utility Week

UTILITY Week 25th November 2016

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

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20 | 25TH NOVEMBER - 1 DECEMBER 2016 | UTILITY WEEK Operations & Assets Roundtable Utility Industry Skills and Talent Challenges London, 3 November 2016 Skills crisis needs action at both ends Not only are utilities finding it difficult to attract young talent, they are faced with the retirement of half the current workforce by 2025. Mathew Beech asks what can be done. F or human resources directors across the utility sector, the figures behind the skills crisis will be firmly ingrained into their psyche. Half of the current workforce is set to retire by 2025, and an additional 200,000 new technical and engineering recruits are needed to maintain the sector's capability at its current level, never mind to meet the industry's growing needs. Exploring these issues, and discussing potential solutions, were the main topics at the Utility Week roundtable, sponsored by Fujitsu, held in London on 3 November. The first subject, in a lively discussion, was the need for utilities to attract new engineers and employees. The perception of the sector, oen pillo- ried in the national media and depicted as a non-glamorous collection of businesses, struggles against other industries – one del- egate even said careers advisers are extolling the virtues of a YouTube blogging career to students over traditional roles in industries like utilities. These other "sexy" industries are pulling away potential future engineers, but the industry is not helping itself in the way it describes itself – especially with job titles such as intermittent discharge manager on offer. The need for an image overhaul and a simplification of language was called for, as was the need to appeal to students at a younger age, rather than when they pick their GCSE options and it is "too late" to attract them to engineering. However, while attracting new talent is troublesome, retaining ageing engineers is also a tough task. Many of the sector's senior staff are wanting to retire, but the companies are keen to retain them and their knowledge. Scottish Water's Shirley Campbell said its solution is to offer flexible retirement, which keeps experienced employees as part of the team with reduced hours, and partners them with apprentices. This keeps them engaged and shares skills from old to young – and vice versa. On top of this, once the engi- neers do enter full retirement, they are made "alumni" of the company and their skills retained in that manner. The other delegates agreed this was a good idea, with many of them offering similar schemes of their own. There was a consensus that the sector, and beyond, needed to act to crack the skills crisis by tackling it at both ends. Calls were made for utilities, either col- lectively or individually, to work closely with schools to show the positive and attractive side of working in the sector. This includes the opportunity to interact with state-of-the- art technology, and to fulfil a valuable social purpose. The "pride" utility workers have in help- ing their communities function was some- thing the delegates agreed is not shouted about enough outside of individual com- panies. Doing so would encourage more students to make relevant enabling subject choices when it counts, delegates thought. The difficulty has been getting the sector as a whole to act as one, and while no firm commitments were made at the event, posi- tive noises were made about taking collective action. Shirley Campbell, director for people, workplace and organisational development, Scottish Water "We encourage employees to remain with us and consider flexible retirement. This eases their transition to full retirement, provides us with a final retirement date and also ensures knowledge transfer takes place between a more experienced employee and usually a new modern apprentice." Views from the top table:

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