To prepare for the changes ahead, utilities began looking at more innovative and capable software. Many decided to replace aging systems with more flexible and capable automation software. Technology was needed for load management, load control and restoration, to mention a few. There was also a need to automate as many calls as possible. This meant an improvement in the level of employees capable of developing the technology. They faced the challenge of aligning employee and company goals during rapid change. Suddenly there was a need for more qualified employees, capable of helping the companies add quality choices for the consumers.
As companies researched the requirements to meet the needed technology and customer demands, they looked at using their own internal resources and training them to work at a higher level, and compared the results to recruiting new talent that already had some experience with similar products. While improving the skills of their own people was more cost-effective, it was also going to take a great deal more time. In most cases, recruiting the needed talent turned out to be the better way to get them up to customer expectations more quickly.
The Economy and Employment
The economy was already in a decline during the first part of 2001 and unemployment was gradually increasing in late 2000. The events of September 11, perhaps, were the trigger that moved the economy to a recession. In addition to the terrible immediate toll September 11 took there has been a lingering effect on the job market. The current unemployment rate is at an all time high. In March, President Bush signed the Recession Relief package which included an extension of unemployment benefits. This will allow those who lost their jobs in the recession or in the aftermath of the September the 11th attacks more time to pay their bills and support their families while they look for work. Unfortunately, extended benefits have already been used up or are running out for many workers.
Utilities are just beginning to develop new services and it's going to take some time for the market to develop. And it's those that are focused on that area that will be successful. For now, many utilities are still struggling with the basics of branding. Executives are rushing to recruit new staff from competitive industries and implement training programs to get utility veterans up to speed. The steps wouldn't be considered innovative in most Fortune 500 companies. But at some utilities, they are startlingly new. Many companies have had to go through a lot of internal turmoil merely understanding what a market-driven system is like and how to implement one. Implementing a competitive culture has meant hiring hundreds of new employees in customer service and marketing.
Vendors and Suppliers Get Up To Speed Of course, deregulation has also had a tremendous impact on the vendors and suppliers of the utility companies. They too have had to increase their talent pools by numbers and quality. This includes high level software development, people with experience dealing with regulatory and alliance issues and good marketing people within the utility industry. The people to pull from were as limited as the concept of the utilities being competitive. In considering these issues together, it's clear that "people needs" will evolve from business strategies. An increased focus is placed on employees who, while driving for results, can do so quickly, and can handle change and ambiguity. Marketing, customer service, operational management, product development and information services are "hot" areas. As companies enter the competitive market, there is a need to raise the bar on performance standards and individual "accountabilities." This makes the recruitment of the right people with the right skills more challenging.
There has also become a greater need to be creative in compensation, retention and recruitment. Competition for the best and the brightest is fierce. The available labor market is tight, fewer young people are entering the skilled trades and the utility industry is undergoing rapid change. Companies have to rethink the way it handles personnel issues and must develop new and creative solutions to its personnel challenges.
Future Looks Encouraging
Despite today's somewhat gloomy job market, there is some hope for the future. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an increase of 15% in total employment between 2000 and 2010. This means an increase in over 20 million jobs. The fastest growing sectors predicted are Professional and Related Occupations and Service Occupations. Eight out of the ten fastest growing occupations are computer and software related. There are still very good companies to work for. Many say the utility industry, as a whole, is one of the most stable, and continuing to grow. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration over 99% of the country’s employers are small businesses and they employ more than half of the private workforce. Some of these small firms may be in a better position to hire during a down market.
The Hunt Begins
So, where do we find the required talent? Many assume with unemployment being so high that available talent is huge. While this is partially true, many are hourly workers and it presents an additional burden of sifting through an enormous amount of resumes to find the experience required. Sometimes just being able to clearly articulate what skill sets are needed is difficult enough in an ever-changing deregulated world. It is always best to look for employees that come from companies that have a product that is close to the companies own products, at least in similar technologies and applications. This used to mean a competitor, however today it means looking at talent that can bring new and innovative ideas to your company, based upon technology and experience, not just a competitive product. Excellent methods of recruiting this talent include running ads, assuming you have the staff and the time to sort through the stacks of resumes. Outsourcing the process to a recruiting firm is the most productive, as they have the staff to concentrate on only the recruiting issues, assuring that you get the very best talent to help lead your company through deregulation and meeting the customer service issues with new and innovative technology through research, training and networking.