Building the Utilities Sector of the Future – how do we attract the talent we need?

13 Sep Building the Utilities Sector of the Future – how do we attract the talent we need?

Yesterday, I took the Women’s Utilities Network on the road with Utility People, exhibiting at the National Skills Academy for Power’s (NSAP) annual conference. I was really keen to attend this event as we’d been working with the team there for a while – supporting their skills improvement agenda. The day proved to be a really interesting and engaging learning experience – and highlighted and reinforced some of the themes that we’ve been talking about at Utility People for some time.

Nick Ellins, CEO of the National Skills Academy, opened the day highlighting the fact that the industry is facing an imminent skills shortage (something we’ve been talking about as part of our Annual Skills Survey report). He flagged up the stat that, over the next decade, there are going to be 221,000 vacancies to be filled across the utilities industries. This startling figure makes the scale of the challenge facing us very real. We know from our own experience the struggle that companies are having right now to access the candidates with the skills that they need – and this challenge is only going to grow. And the impact that this shortage could have on the wider economy was made clear when Nick emphasised the fact the Utilities sector was the single largest contributor to the Government’s National Infrastructure Plan. Any shortage of talent in utilities would directly impact on economic growth.

However, the NSAP are very focused on this challenge – and are partnering with the Duke of Edinburgh scheme, as well as targeting primary schools and year 9 students – to encourage young people to consider a career in the STEM fields. These steps are very necessary – because as our economy is currently experiencing good growth, it means that there are more roles than people to fill them – so the sector is competing with other, more ‘sexy’, industries for the top talent. This point was highlighted by Dave Newborough, the current Chair of the National Academy for Power, and ex-HR director for E.ON UK.  The corresponds with the research that we’ve done here at Utility People. The overwhelming results from this years’ Skills Survey results was that the utilities sector had an image problem – you can see the results here (LINK). It’s something we all need to work together to counteract.

Dave also highlighted the need to maximise investment in skills once people were in the workplace. It seems that businesses aren’t investing in skills development once people are in post (again, something that we’ve seen as part of our research) – and it’s clear that training once in post benefits companies twice – once, in developing skills and secondly in improving retention. Cost cutting over recent years across the sector has also not helped – we’ve lost key skills and it’s vital we invest in order to bring them back.

Everyone talks about the unprecedented level of change sweeping the industry – and with demand for talented individuals exceeding supply, as an industry we need to build a compelling proposition to attract top talent.

The conference rounded up with an excellent and inspiring presentation by David Clarke, Paralympian, and Captain of the gold medal winning GB Blind Football team at the 2012 London Olympics. His presentation was on a subject very close to my heart – the art of confidence and about focusing not on what you CAN’T do, but rather what you CAN. His story about how he built the belief and focus to play a sport that he once thought closed to him was fantastic.

The evening was given over to the NSAP Awards and celebrating successes within the industry – it was great to see the diversity of awards winners, and host Gyles Brandreth really made the evening. It was clear he’d done his research and understood the sector.

I found the day truly inspiring – and gave me lots to think about. As an industry it’s clear we need to embrace the skills needed for the future. We need to think about how we attract the ‘connected’ generation into our industry, how we make our businesses relevant in a more digital world and recognise that trends such as ‘flexible working’ are here to stay. It’s an exciting future, but we need to make people see utilities as the place that they want to build their careers.