Customer Connections + Corporate Services

Bringing Sexy Back: 10 Things to Attract, Retain + Leverage the Talent of the Next Generation

If this title makes you uncomfortable, you aren’t alone – the utility industry isn’t regarded to be that “sexy.” Certainly not compared to companies such as Google, Tesla and Apple. Yet, as companies, we are all competing in the same talent pool. The next generation workforce is key in moving utilities forward and keeping pace with advancements in industry technology. A new perspective is needed to reshape how we approach energy delivery.

As one disheartening study found, only 17 percent of college graduates said that they would consider working for a utility. You read that right: consider. That means utilities are probably not a first or even a second choice. That’s just not good enough if we want to be competitive in attracting the best, savviest talent.

This concern was raised in a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Report, Power and utilities changing workforce – Keeping the lights on: “Utilities… may now have to rethink both their approach to process and their employee value proposition as they confront the increasing turnover of newer and high performers, as well as the accelerating loss of experienced employees due to retirement.”

So, what can be done? Here are 10 simple steps that utilities can take to attract, retain and leverage the talent of the next generation:

1. Embrace social media
Yes, it is time to update your social media policies.

Recent research shows that 64 percent of millennials ask about social media policies during interviews, and 24 percent say it’s a key factor in whether they accept an offer. That’s right: a KEY factor! It’s time to get over our concerns about social media and let our workforce reach out and spread the good word about your business.

workplaces that allow employees to select their work location have between 10-15 percent higher employee satisfaction levels compared to those who did not.

In addition, it’s imperative that utilities allocate personnel and resources to social media. Leverage the efficiencies that social media can provide your company. In this new world of apps for everything, and the constant drive for instantaneous information, social media technologies can be leveraged to recruit and increase business process efficiencies.

Plus, it’s a key tool in customer satisfaction, crisis management and reputation enhancement.

2. Support causes: social, ethical and environmental
A 2014 Brookings study¹ found that 63 percent of millennials want employers to contribute to social or ethical causes they consider important. Eighty percent² want to work for companies that care about their social impacts. This is a great fit for utilities, as they are ideally positioned in their communities. Not only do utilities provide essential services, it is an industry with a long history of supporting the communities they serve. By communicating our social outreach and philanthropy efforts, utilities can capitalize on attracting millennials to our industry.

3. Take a look at your company’s work-life balance
No, that does not mean working less. It’s just that using today’s technology, there are fewer reasons not to provide a little more work schedule flexibility. You don’t need your employees shackled to their desks 8 to 5. Since we’re asking employees to be more available, we can offer a little give and take. Properly managed, offering flexibility to the how and when of our work days can have big payoffs — especially when it comes to building morale and increasing productivity.

Also, utilities can build their lifestyle brand and culture to recruit and retain top talent. Some examples of events offered by companies with high-rated social environments are team sports, game days and after-work functions.

4. Give frequent feedback
A key to mitigating millennial turnover is feedback. Millennials are used to getting information quickly and they want instant feedback, much like the data on their phones. A survey by Yahoo Hot Jobs, found that 60 percent of millennials want to hear from manager at least once a day. That might seem odd to some, but there it is. Millennials want that affirmation and connectivity.

5. Create a career development plan for each employee
A rolling stone gathers no moss. Eighty percent of millennials are looking for promotions within three years.³ They are largely driven by their desire for change and growth. Utilities need to provide diverse work paths for employees through rotational assignment programs and other growth opportunities. Demonstrating the availability of these growth options is also a great recruitment tool.

6. Make your workplace healthier
Where LEED programs focus on the efficiency and sustainability of buildings, WELL programs focus on human health and well-being. In a survey of employees at CBRE Group Inc.’s first WELL-certified office, 83 percent felt more productive and 92 percent said the new space created a positive effect on their health and well-being.

In addition, workplaces that allow employees to select their work location have between 10-15 percent higher employee satisfaction levels compared to those who did not.4 Again, we see how flexibility matters.

Simple additions such as plants and sunlight matter too. Workers in rooms with indoor plants and natural sunlight performed significantly better on tasks requiring sustained concentration.

7. Provide mobility with technology
Millennials aren’t shy per se, but 41 percent say they prefer to communicate electronically at work rather than face-to-face or by telephone. Younger workers routinely make use of their own technology at work, and three-quarters believe that access to technology helps them work more effectively. Today’s millennial worker expects their workplace technology to include social networking, instant messaging, video-on-demand, etc. Rather than decreased productivity, companies that implement these changes tend to experience reduced absenteeism, improved retention and happier employees.

8. The essential benefits of mentorship
Mentorship can provide an essential piece in the development of new workers. Not only does it provide workers with a means to share knowledge and information, but also provides young workers valuable guidance as their careers progress.

While millennials are looking for feedback and reinforcement, our industry needs to think of succession planning. We are facing an era of mass retirements, and it is imperative that we transfer knowledge and expertise from our existing employees to those recently added to our companies.

9. Keep training interactive
Interactive learning is preferred over classrooms and lectures. This can be done informally or formally, using online training, lunch-and-learn sessions, job shadowing, hands-on training — there are so many cost-effective formats.

One example is Google, which implemented a formal training program where workers at all levels develop and lead training programs for their peers and coworkers. They have full responsibility for developing and administering the training programs, and the results have been very positive.

10. Show your innovative side
More than three quarters of millennials want to work in an innovative field and energy is a fast-evolving industry. There are so many technologies integral to our industry, and many of them are still new to us — big data, energy advancements, disruptive technologies, high-tech control and communication systems, just to name a few. The opportunities to be on the edge of innovation are here — but we need to get the word out.

So there you have it: The utility industry already has a sexy body of work, we just have to put on our party clothes and strut a bit more.

This article summarizes a group presentation from WEI’s Annual Meeting in September 2015. The presenters are graduating members of WEI’s 2015 Business Acumen for Emerging Leaders course.


Gilbert Archuleta is the manager, customer & system projects for Puget Sound Energy. He is responsible for the project management and engineering of new customer construction, public improvement, multi-family development and system projects.

Ryan Eckert is the operations procurement manager within the supply chain organization at Idaho Power Company. His team is responsible for the contracting and procurement of goods and services in support of the operations business units.

Jenny Macy is a communication systems design engineer at Burns & McDonnell, and specializes in Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), substation communications, and wide-area networks for electric utilities.

Jennifer Shore is the manager, substation projects at EPCOR, providing capital planning, project execution, commissioning and operational support for the company’s transmission substations (15kV to 500kV).

Rick Tetzloff is a senior project manager responsible for generation resource strategy at Portland General Electric – using the latest technologies to build a diverse, clean, and efficient portfolio of the future.

  1. How Millennials Could Upend Wall Street and Corporate America, Morley Winograd and Dr. Michael Hais.” Governance Studies at Brookings, May 2014.
  2. Millennials Most Sustainability-Conscious Generation Yet, But Don’t Call Them ‘Environmentalists.’ By Aarthi Rayapura, Sustainable Brands, March 11, 2014.
  3. Corporate Executive Board (CEB) 2013-2014 Global Labor Market Survey.
  4. U.S. Workplace Strategy Report, page 2


About the Author

Western Energy magazine
Western Energy® is the voice of Western Energy Institute's 800+ volunteers and members, providing the latest in-depth news, best practices, solutions and conversations about pressing business and operational challenges facing electric and gas industries serving the Western United States and Canada. This quarterly publication is distributed to more than 6,500 decision-makers of public and private companies involved in electric generation and transmission, gas and electric distribution, pipeline operations, power marketing and energy-related services