What 2018 Taught Us; Insights Into 2019
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- January 20, 2019
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The significant influx of less experienced, more technology-demanding personnel into the utility operations workforce is creating challenges for an industry already managing significant transformation spurred by changes in the generation and consumption of energy.
In the most recent BRIDGE Index Survey, 95% of all respondents agreed that gaps in industry experience in new workers are a major concern for their organization. However, there is a disconnect between those with less experience (less than 10 years) and those with more experience (greater than 10 years), in how successful the utilities have been in addressing this knowledge gap and the use of new technologies.
In the survey, respondents with less experience felt the level of knowledge transfer was adequate to prepare them for supporting utility operations now and in the future. However, those with more experience believed their utility was not adequately handling the transfer of knowledge to new employees. Similar results were noted in responses to questions about the use of technology and data to support the electronic capture and reuse of that institutional knowledge, leading us to conclude that:
A. In some cases, more experienced utility workers may not yet be fully embracing new tools and technology
B. Less experienced employees may not know enough to realize how much they really don’t know yet.
If 2018 was any indication of things to come, 2019 will be even more challenging when dealing with this knowledge transfer gap. Without a significant transition plan by the utility for how they will address knowledge transfer and change management, this gap will continue to grow and put the safe and reliable management of the grid at risk.
So, what can be done? Here are four action items for your 2019 checklist:
1. Establish, expand or revamp your knowledge transfer program
Developing a robust knowledge transfer program is the first step in ensuring institutional knowledge is captured, maintained and transferred. This is even more important when we recognize that to date, the workers replacing those who have been in the job for 30+ years are not likely to have the same kind of tenure with the utility. Factor in these changing needs to reinvent your knowledge transfer program.
2. Review your communication strategy and execution
Change only happens when people are properly introduced to it and given the proper nurturing for comprehension. However, with so many critical projects being planned and executed within today’s utility companies, many on the ground find themselves struggling with multiple priorities and no clear vision of what is really most important or what is even the overarching end goal. This lack of clarity or potential lack of resources can lead to a “heads-down” approach that can make it difficult to concentrate on implementing the changes needed to achieve the desired outcomes. Developing processes that build transparency across the enterprise can help address this issue by ensuring consistent, clear communication to facilitate the proper level of understanding and preparation needed to make sure not only that technology is successfully deployed and adopted, but that any resistance to the change, which can be a natural occurrence, is effectively managed.
3. Measure adoption efforts beyond initial rollout
Evaluating the success of a program or project should be a continuous process. Initial deployments frequently experience a high level of scrutiny throughout the implementation process, but that focus can wane and with it the adoption of the technology. It is vital at the outset, to develop adoption goals and the associated metrics you will use to ensure they are aligned with the desired benefits of your program. Then, the old adage, “inspect what you expect” applies perfectly. Introduce ongoing assessments, designed in part, to measure adoption, but also to uncover user-identified issues in order to address them. You’ll find that end users are more supportive of ongoing assessments if they know ongoing issues may actually get fixed and you’ll have better visibility into where more work is needed to achieve adoption goals.
4. Take a leap into the future
No longer relegated to a distant future, advances in augmented reality technology have made its adoption by utilities a powerful use case that should be evaluated now. Imagine a world where experienced field workers are equipped with technology such as smart glasses that enable them to capture the steps taken to perform the maintenance/repair activity as well as store the information in a database along with the necessary schematics and manufacturers information related to that piece of equipment. Next, algorithms are defined and applied to those steps to ensure that the next time the procedure is needed, it is performed correctly. Fast forwarding even more: if that same equipment needs to be worked on again by a field worker with less experience, they can now access the schematics and manufacturers information coupled with step-by-step instructions created by their predecessors.
Implementing such technology and processes will enable this knowledge capture and transfer to occur over time as a natural course of business. Additionally, this process will cause minimal disruption to daily operations while at the same time capturing the critical institutional knowledge in a reusable format that can easily be transferred to less experienced workers.
You can successfully reinvent your knowledge transfer program to explore new ways of incorporating technology to support its capture and transfer. Not only can this facilitate the knowledge transfer process, but it can help attract and retain the desired next-generation workforce while minimizing the risks associated with both retirements and attrition.
Modernization of your systems and processes, as well as implementing an integrated knowledge transfer program, will help ensure the availability of the skilled resources needed to maintain operational excellence, grid safety and reliability. The automation and digitalization of utility functions will clearly change how a utility operates in the future, making a comprehensive and ongoing change management program a critical requirement for a utility’s success.
With transformation comes opportunity. Adapting to new technologies and processes will be critical. During the transition, augmenting internal staff with experienced external staff and augmented reality tools will help engage and mentor the less experienced worker, who may not recognize their lack of knowledge but will embrace the technology. At the same time, this process will help the more experienced workforce understand the value of technology for enabling knowledge transfer ensuring the continued reliability of the energy delivery system.