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Future workforce


WHAT DOES INTELLIGENCE MEAN IN RELATION TO THE UTILITY WORKFORCE of the future? According to Wikipedia, intelligence is ''a property of the mind that encompasses…abilities such as the capacities to reason, to plan, to solve problems, to think abstractly, to comprehend ideas…and to learn.''

Intelligent utilities will need an intelligent workforce, but this doesn't mean that today's employees aren't intelligent. To better understand this statement,
think back to computer engineers who built the first commercial computers in the early 1950s. They were intelligent, but unlike any other product ever invented, the computer has aided mankind in exercising our intelligence. With more information available to them, today's computer engineers are able to:

  • Solve increasingly complex issues
  • Think more abstractly
  • Better comprehend ideas
  • Improve planning and problem solving

In essence, computer engineers have not become more intelligent over time, but they now have tools to help them better leverage their intelligence. The smart
grid and intelligent utility will do the same for the utility workforce.


In today's utilities, employees' knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) are based primarily on providing electrical power as a product. These KSAs support the rules-based, process-oriented, functionally structured, and cost-focused business needs of today's utility.

In the future, however, there will be a massive paradigm shift from providing just a product to providing customers with customizable services and solutions for their unique energy needs. The result will be a shift toward KSAs that support a more agile, innovative, collaborative, cross-functional, service-oriented utility of the future. Employees will need to deal with constantly evolving technology. They will need to adapt to the changes quickly and have the ability to analyze copious amounts of information from many sources and make objective decisions based on that information.


To better understand how the utility of the future's workforce will need to change, I spoke with Mike Carlson - now an executive with GridPoint - when he was chief information officer and vice president, business systems, Xcel Energy, about the changes Xcel Energy is identifying as it builds a smarter grid in Boulder, Colo. ''Field engineers and technicians need to take on a whole new skill set of technolog and communications. Today, when a smart device fails, we need to determine whether or not to send field technicians or network technologists,'' explained Carlson. ''A field crew isn't trained to handle fiber-optic splicing and technologists aren't able to jump in a bucket to evaluate signal degradation. Even if they were, the technologists haven't been trained on power zone risks.''

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At some point, utilities will need to retrain an entire workforce of field technicians and network technologists. Carlson and I considered coining the
term ''field technologists'' or employees with the ability to assess the power side of the line as well as the communication and network protocol aspects of a smarter grid. Combining divergent skill sets into the role of a field technologist is indicative of the types of changes that will need to occur in order to support intelligent utility initiatives.

Tomorrow's field technologists will need to have an advanced understanding of technology as well as power systems. They will need to adapt to frequent changes in technology, and quickly make objective decisions based on complex, real-time data made available through mobile computing and instant connectivity to their peers and the company's knowledge network.

These changes are not exclusive to field operations. Digitizing the grid will also impact the back office. Customer service representatives will have to not
only deal with today's issues of power outages and billing inquiries, but also future needs like troubleshooting online demand side management systems and customer Web interfaces. Customer service will likely move from reactive to proactive - taking on a sales aspect by helping customers upgrade their services. This will require continual workforce development and a dedication to serve the customer's needs.

Dr. Ralph Masiello, senior vice president, energy systems consulting, KEMA, and board member of the GridWise Alliance, along with Rob Wilhite, senior vice president, intelligent networks and communications practice, KEMA, shared their perspectives on the future workforce. Masiello emphasized the importance of product management, marketing, matrix management and value-added accounting concepts to tomorrow's utility. According to Masiello, ''the utility of the future will look more like computer companies of today.'' Wilhite added that ''recruitment will likely go outside traditional channels because the skill sets needed to support the utility of the future will be transferable from companies who've already made a change over to a more solutions-based business model.''


A little over 20 years ago, when the Internet began trickling into the mainstream, who knew that someday there would be Internet marketing managers or Twitter applications developers? Now, as we stand at the precipice of a new utility era, I wonder what new jobs will emerge? Will we indeed have field technologists? How about high-voltage wireless transmission engineers? Or perhaps bioelectric interface specialists? We can't be certain. But what we can see is that KSAs will change to accommodate the vast influx of information and technology that will help make us all a more intelligent workforce.

Ryan Cook, SPHR, is vice president of Energy Central's employment services division.


  • Are dedicated to providing a product to the public as a whole
  • Are focused on training mainly for safety and career advancement
  • Make decisions based on previously defined processes and procedures
  • Maintain systems based on compliance with set standards
  • Work well in a traditional, linear, functionally based organizational structure
  • Comply with established guidelines and procedures - maintain status quo
  • Use advanced electromechanical skills to maintain systems
  • Make autonomous decisions based on training, experience and policy


  • Are dedicated to providing services and solutions for unique customer needs
  • Are continually engaged in learning and workforce development initiatives
  • Quickly make objective decisions based on complex, real-time data
  • Actively contribute to product innovation and development
  • Work well within a cross-functional, multi-dimensional organizational structure
  • Adapt to continual change within the industry, organization and individual job responsibilities
  • Use advanced understanding of technology to anticipate and drive change
  • Practice group and collaboration-focused decision making




This article was written by Ryan Cook, SPHR

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