Guest Column | January 13, 2021

The Retirement Wave Is Coming: How Will Your Utility Manage?

By Ali Barsamian

VertexOne_sm

Digital transformation, but also diversity and inclusion, will be essential for recruiting the next generation of utility workers.

Our lives depend on access to running water and reliable gas and electricity. It is hard to imagine a day without a steady flow and, luckily, in America, it is rare that we have to consider the possibility. For that security, we must be thankful for the hardworking utility professionals who spend their days ensuring that we have continued access to safe and reliable drinking water. Particularly as we continue to be faced with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, utility professionals continue to deliver on their essential work. These professionals play a vital role in protecting public health. And, for this reason, maintaining a consistent and reliable workforce is absolutely crucial. Thus, a substantial wave of impending retirements in an industry facing recruiting challenges should be cause for concern.

It is projected that, in the next 10 years, 37 percent of utility workers will retire.1 This is a substantial percentage of the workforce needing to be replenished. No matter the size of a utility, retirements will be felt as desks are left empty and tasks and responsibilities are left without owners. As a result, utility senior management teams must be prepared to do one of two things: do more with a smaller team, and/or implement programs that will help attract and recruit young talent to their organizations to meet current and future needs. And, as a utility considers its recruiting and onboarding process, today, more than ever, diversity and inclusion must be top of mind.

Option 1: Doing More With Less

As senior management strategizes, they must consider their internal resources. The challenge to replace retirees will acutely affect smaller utilities, which have fewer resources for recruiting employees, providing professional development training once they are hired, and supporting extensive knowledge transfer between newly hired and current employees. Ultimately, these utilities need to accept the challenge to accomplish their work with fewer labor resources. How can they do such a thing? By implementing solutions that digitize and automate previously laborious, manual processes, utilities can do more, despite having fewer team members to handle the work.

One prime area, prone for improvement, is a utility’s leak identification and management process. Many utilities report spending hours on end manually monitoring consumption data to identify customer leaks, communicate alerts to their customers, and subsequently handle leak abatement requests. The Village of Glenview, IL,2 reported having to spend one full-time employee (FTE) day per week on just mailing leak alerts to their customers. Conversely, WaterSmart’s leak detection, alerting, and resolution platform3 automatically identifies leaks based upon predetermined parameters, and sends a personalized leak alert to the customer by mail, e-mail, SMS text message, or automated voice call. By implementing the WaterSmart solution, the South Tahoe Public Utility District4 similarly experienced 10 hours of time saved per week, plus they were able to reduce their spend on managing their leak abatement program by 30 percent. That is valuable time back in their week that the team can use to fill any gaps left behind by retiring colleagues, and potential capital available to be spent on recruiting efforts.

Option 2: Attracting And Recruiting Young Talent To The Water Industry

The U.S. EPA, states, and industry organizations are working to promote careers in the utility sector with campaigns like Work for Water5 in an attempt to build interest and recruit fresh, new talent. However, building interest amongst Millennials and Generation Z workers may be difficult in a historically “behind the times” industry. A recent survey found that 91 percent of Generation Z,6 the generation that’s just beginning to enter the workforce, has said that technological sophistication would impact their interest in working at a company. This is a huge revelation, which suggests that companies lagging behind technologically are missing out on the upcoming future talent.

Adapting to the digital transformation of utilities will be a critical component of recruiting young talent. VertexOne’s 200- plus utility partners and other utility leaders who embrace the value of software solutions and the digital technological evolution will be the first to reap the rewards of a bright, youthful, and innovative workforce prepared to tackle the many challenges that stand in front of the water industry.

Building An Inclusive And Diverse Workforce

As utilities prepare to recruit and onboard new employees, they must take some time to be introspective and really consider whether their workforce culture embodies inclusivity and diversity. Organizations and employers of all kinds are having these important, long-overdue, and challenging conversations following too many years of ignoring and brushing racism, ageism, sexism, and more under the rug. At VertexOne, we developed our Diversity & Inclusion Council this year to do just that. Experts share that progress and improvement start at the top, and thus, all management staff must begin to walk the walk and talk the talk of inclusion and diversity as soon as possible. For those seeking additional guidance on what they can do internally, this webinar provides deep insights from experienced utility professionals on what they have seen work.

The time is now for senior management to strategize and prepare to answer those “Hey, who is in charge of …,” “Does anyone have time to handle ...,” and “Who is going to take over this project …” questions. As each utility starts to define a plan around your shifting workforce, VertexOne is ready to help with timesaving, automated solutions and industry expertise. Visit https://www.vertexone. net/demo to learn more today.

References:
1. https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-waterinfrastructure/water-sector-workforce
2. https://www.watersmart.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/WS_CaseStudies_vog2.pdf
3. https://www.watersmart.com/leak-alert-andresolution/
4. https://www.vertexone.net/case-studies/south-tahoe-saving-money
5. https://www.workforwater.org/
6. https://blog.ryan-jenkins.com/statisticsexposing-what-generation-z-wants-from-theworkplace

About The Author
Ali Barsamian has worked closely with the marketing, operations, and policy teams at VertexOne and WaterSmart to advocate for software solutions as a tool to address utility affordability concerns and evolving customer expectations. She oversees VertexOne’s marketing activities and works closely aligned with the Sales and Business Development teams. Ali completed the Water Education Foundation’s Water Leaders program in 2017. Prior to joining the team, Ali worked with the cities and non-profits to manage zoning code enforcement, general plan composition, and open space conservation. Ali received a B.S. in Environmental Policy Analysis and Planning with a focus on Advanced Policy Analysis from the University of California, Davis.