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POWER UTILITIES WORKFORCE CRISIS RESOLUTION

Power Utilities approaching 2020 are running into a significant workforce shortage that is both qualitative and quantitative. The US Department of Energy has reported in 2017 that the industry will “need 105,000 new workers in the smart grid and electric utility industry by 2030 but expects that only 25,000 existing industry personnel are interested in filling those positions. The remaining 80,000 employees in this supply-demand mismatch will need to be filled through recruiting and training. However, the industry is not expected to meet the forecasted need with its current recruitment and training rates.” (Source: “Utilities Struggle With Labor Shortage,” Karen Marcus, Final Draft Communications, LLC, Energy Central, February 16, 2019). That is the qualitative aspect of the shortage. The quantitative aspect of the shortage is that the individuals retiring or aging-out are the most experienced and seasoned power utility workers. These will most certainly be replaced with entry level or newly trained workers. That knowledge gap represents the qualitative aspect of this problem.

What are the common solutions that might exist by 2030 to help alleviate the workforce shortage, and the real threat of service degradation and disruption across the United States? There are a number of important strategies that can be deployed, but perhaps the most important is what will not work. Starbucks, Amazon, US Postal Service and many companies are now waking up to the same problem. They need 10,000s of workers and they can’t find them. They also can’t outsource to other countries (with respect to these particular service delivery jobs). What is causing this:

  • Decline of the unions, as apprentice programs and union recruitment are not what it used to be.
  • Entry level positions are not sufficiently attractive with respect to wages, benefits and work conditions.
  • Paths from the mail room to the board room that traditionally attracted hard and ambitious career workers have been burned down.
  • With respect to power utilities, the work requirement can be dangerous, physically daunting and complex.
  • Entry level workers are attracted to soft skill jobs, as STEM and 2-year technology degrees simply are not attracting a large enough student base.
  • Foreign technical workers are opting to stay at home, work in more attractive countries, or return home.

These are systemic problems that can only be resolved over time, with public policy and with major changes that might take years to mitigate. This idea of solving the work force problem via traditional human resource strategies within the power utility cannot bridge the gap.

However, there are strategies that Mitsubishi Electric Sustainable Substation Division (SSD) believes in, as a means of providing direct support to. It requires that both the power utility and the SSD-like organizations enter into a cooperative and contemporary arrangement to accomplishing larger and more ambitious projects in the very near future. How does SSD resolve the problems in workforce shortage that the power utility cannot?

  1. Power utilities, with a workforce shortage, are better serviced to “package” work into large capital projects that can be off-loaded and destress the workforce shortage, while moving all remaining workforce towards either customer assurance or PUC compliance.
  2. Mitsubishi Eclectic’s parent company is one of the largest corporations in the world, with a reputation for quality, for customer service and for integrity. Allowing SSD to assist in power utility capital projects transfers these virtues to the power utility. Arguably, these virtues are the same as the power utility would desire from an employee.
  3. Power utility retirees or aged out employees have commonly found a second career, reusing their considerable skill, working for “for profit” organizations that provide a new start for their considerable skills.
  4. SSD employs a large number of professional employees ranging from engineers to technicians to project managers to financial personnel. As a power utility looking to universally looking to upgrade, for example, all substations; SSD has the ability to configure its workforce to handle any size of project, and to handle multiple site projects.
  5. SSD also employs a large network of specifically skilled partner organizations that represent very specific advantages to very specific power utilities. These partners might be former power utility employees that have local knowledge. They might be specialists that are intimately familiar with GIS enclosure, building designs in urban environments. They might be partner organizations that are union workshops capable on on-site construction within a given geographic footprint.

While this all sounds great, it really begins with the power utility understanding their capital expenditures and their fulfillment strategy for the next 10 to 15 years. With a limited workforce, how do I accomplish the capital projects required? Within my technological and expansion needs, what work functions and work areas am I willing to entrust to a professional service provider like SSD? Presuming that I am not going to bridge the employee shortage gap, what areas will I defer on and what areas will I accelerate hiring, training and promotion? How do I view SSD and professional service providers, both specifically and broadly? What are they good at? What are they not good at? What do I believe they can handle for my power utility?

Finally, workforce shortages are not a new or unsolved mystery. The Airline Industry employs contractors, both union and non-union, to supplement ground crews and services. The Postal and Package Delivery Industry has long created important services outlets to handle seasonal demand. The Wireless Telecommunications Industry has partnered with a number of professional service companies to do everything from handling retail stores to device repair to customer insurance programs and beyond.

In the Power Industry, if there will be in fact 105,000 professional worker vacancies in the next ten years, and only 25,000 of these are filled. Then 80,000 jobs will remain unfilled. If power utilities can package resource needs into projects for SSD and other professional services companies representing arguably 70,000 jobs; then this shortage that the Power Utility Industry faces be qualitatively and quantitively resolved through partnerships. Speaking from our parent company, Mitsubishi, we have the resources, experience and wherewithal to handle large project demands.

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