Bridging the Talent Gap

As an increasing number of workers in the electric power industry reach retirement age, organizations face losing years of invaluable institutional knowledge and experience.

Pennwell web 160 165

by Tiffani A. Worthy, Day & Zimmermann

As an increasing number of workers in the electric power industry reach retirement age, organizations face losing years of invaluable institutional knowledge and experience.

Pennwell web 160 165According to a 2009 report from the Center of Energy Workforce Development (CEWD), 51 percent of the engineering work force and 46 percent of the skilled technician work force in this industry will retire by 2015. Many companies have just begun dealing with the consequences of this trend.

A large and diverse work force with a wide range of skill sets is required to meet power industry demands. Three key attributes are required to help bridge the talent gap from one generation to the next.

Open Channels of Communication

Before an organization can transfer knowledge from experienced workers effectively, it must first establish effective open channels of communications. Traditional communications tools, such as face-to-face meetings and interactions, can be strengthened by emerging digital technologies to create a continuous, organic flow of information between employees and workers at all levels.

Formal mentorship programs can facilitate the transition of knowledge from one generation to the next. By providing newer, less experienced employees with ongoing and candid feedback on their knowledge and skills acquisition, programs foster and track employee development within the context of project work assignments and experience.

While a mentorship program addresses the need for in-depth, meaningful communications among individuals, it provides a narrow view of the overall organization. Communication channels—which encompass larger groups of people, such as town hall meetings—unite levels of organizations. Firmwide intranet and executive and employee blogs promote the sharing of best practices, lessons learned and opportunities. Sharing is part of the equation; each channel also must have a mechanism to capture and archive critical information so it can be accessed as needed.

Accelerated Transition Plans

Economic uncertainty also drives succession planning, continuing education and training programs. High-potential candidates are identified early through evaluation. Skills are measured and assessed against criteria so candidates can be evaluated fairly and accurately.

Classroom training across a broad set of disciplines provides the foundation for project and field assignments that further subject matter expertise and leadership skills required for power industry success. Exposing workers to job sites and projects accelerates learning and facilitates innovation and creative problem solving. Intensive classroom training combined with fieldwork provides the work force with hands-on experience that creates more value for the client.

Tap New Talent Through Intentional Development Programs

Work force recruiting, retention and knowledge transfer are ongoing priorities for thriving fields; however, the power industry requires specific kinds of skill sets and knowledge acquisition. Carefully orchestrated collaborative efforts among utilities, contractors, building trade unions and educational institutions will be required to properly develop new talent. Intentional development programs provide companies with a comprehensive, systematic process for developing the next generation of skilled workers and for tracking their work experience exposure.

The Construction Industry Institute and other professional associations are partnering with high schools to promote student interest in science, engineering and technical trades. These partnerships offer synergies to all parties involved. Schools receive improved resources and tools that elevate the status of their programs, and construction and maintenance companies create a pipeline of well-trained, job-ready talent. Students will have an incentive to join these programs and pursue engineering and construction because their performances could lead to gainful employment.

If recruiting is to be effective, the strategic application of emerging digital technologies will be required. Students are likely to be engaged by such innovative educational applications, including simulation programs and training software. Social media and online networks have become the preferred communication channels for college students. Using these tools in recruiting could yield favorable results.

Conclusion

Organizations that engage new workers and experienced professionals during knowledge transfer are positioned for success. Combining traditional training, coaching and mentoring programs with classroom and digital education programs plus aggressive recruiting bridges the gap and plugs into the ultimate power source: human knowledge.

Author

Tiffani A. Worthy is the director of training and development for Day & Zimmermann’s engineering construction and maintenance group. Worthy is responsible for overseeing training programs for more than 15,000 employees. She is a former Army officer and has a doctorate in human and organizational learning from The George Washington University. Reach her at tiffani.worthy@dayzim.com.

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