My experience in finding talent for the utilities industry tells me that the pool of skill is declining and is not being replaced by new entrants. The Industry Skills Accord confirms this. It reports that the three main workforce and skills challenges are:
- A significant proportion of skilled workers are near retirement age, 18% are over 55 years old.
- 36% of vacancies are hard to fill in the energy and utility sector; higher than any other sector.
- 14% of industry employers report internal skills gaps.
Inevitably, these challenges will have to be addressed by recruiting and training the millennial generation, born between the years 1980 and 2000. By 2020 they will make up 50% of the workforce. They are more numerous than the Baby Boomer generation who are now retiring and they will soon outnumber their Generation X predecessors. Attracting the best of this generation will be the key to the success of the utility industry. Ignoring them and failing to take account of their needs is the path to slow decline as our existing workforce ages and stagnates.
They are different to their predecessors in their expectations, ambitions and attitudes to work. They are the generation that is shaping the future of the business world, and their aspirations and easy familiarity with new technologies will come to define the workplace.
A defining characteristic of this generation is its easy relationship with the digital world. As digital natives they have grown up with high-speed internet and portable devices as commonplace. Their use of social media gives them an expectation of instant results. They are entering the industry with a better understanding of what can be achieved with technology than their more experienced older colleagues.
It´s not just technology that makes them different. They have come of age during an economic crisis and their attitudes are coloured by that experience. Previous generations were happy to set organisational goals above their personal goals on the basis of being rewarded later, but this generation sees its own needs as more immediate and important and wants immediate reward.
They see rapid career progression as the norm, they expect their work to be interesting and varied and they are turned off by rigid management and organisational structures. They expect flexibility, openness and frequent feedback and encouragement. They value knowledge, learning and personal development and if they can´t progress in the organisation they are very willing to move on to another organisation where they can.
They are looking for more in life than a long climb up the corporate ladder. They want to feel that they are making an important contribution, and their ambition and optimism drives them to define success as being more than financial reward.
Our industry needs to examine and potentially transform its culture and management style to recruit millennial talent. The millennials expect the workplace to be a community with common interests and goals rather than a hierarchy that dictates actions to be blindly followed.
The working environment has to make the most of digital technology – but the millennial won´t be confined to a grey cubicle. They do want to work hard, but they also value a comfortable stimulating environment that blurs the traditional hard lines between work and home life.
What should the industry do to make the most of millennial talent?
They are used to being always connected, they respond instantly and they expect portable devices, so the technology platforms that we use should recognise and support this.
Of course we must have targets and be clear about what we want but we shouldn’t dictate where and how, but leave room for creativity. What does it matter if they work from home as long as they complete what you ask of them? The workplace has to be a stimulating and comfortable place to be, and we should abandon our traditional distinction between work and home.
Learning and progression
Make online learning and development integral to the workplace using easily accessible structured courses as well as mentoring. We need to encourage progression by developing schemes that recognise achievement and status, which will let the best of them advance quickly
Millennials don’t expect to be in a job for life so we must factor this in to our plans. They will leave. But when they do, let´s make sure that they will recommend us to their peers as a forward-thinking organisation.
We need to help this generation achieve its potential by highlighting their contributions and improvements. We need to recognise and encourage innovations and bright ideas, embracing positive change. We must tell them when they do well, review performance often and give lots of feedback.
Attracting and recruiting this generation sets our industry a big challenge, but we must embrace change, recognise their different needs and make full use of the potential that they offer.
If we don´t, then we will lose the brightest and best of them to other industries, widening the skills gap and leaving us with an uncertain future.