Whether you’re a career utility employee or killing time while something better comes along, you’re going to be impacted by the manpower revolution.

“We’re looking for professionals who want a career here. Not engineers that will always be looking for greener pastures!” That was pretty much the greeting I got when I had my initial job interview with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. Actually, I was between graduate degrees at Berkeley looking for a temporary position and had no intention of settling down anywhere. And particularly not at a (what I then considered) low tech, conservative utility, for Pete’s sake! But I ended up staying for many years and the power industry continues to reward me with awesome challenges and terrific friends and colleagues.

However, there’s no doubt that the hundred year-old utility culture of hiring engineers and other technical professionals for life is changing rapidly for a number of reasons, including:

  • Utilities generally can’t compete with hi-tech industries when it comes to salary, training and advancement opportunities. And utility benefit packages are becoming less attractive.
  • Power specialists are getting rarer. Fewer universities offer power engineering majors or even courses.
  • Rapidly evolving Smart grid and related control, IT and communications technologies are pushing utilities to rely on outsourced specialists.

Since about 50 percent of the aging utility workforce is reaching retirement age, the next few years will provide the opportunities for overhauling utility resource management. That presents some major challenges. Ironically, these challenges occur during a time of the greatest technology changes that the industry has ever seen.

Our reader poll is almost over. So far the results show :

  • About a third of our poll participants think things will get worse before they get better. Companies will lay off too many professionals only to have to hire them back later. This would be a repeat of some of the over-downsizing among field workers and meter readers that occurred a decade ago.
  • Another third of those surveyed think that companies will move to much more outsourcing. Professional employees will be contract managers, working with consultants.
  • About a quarter of the participants think that utilities will increasingly rely on turn-key, soup to nuts engineering and build-out provided by engineering firms and manufacturers.

Summarizing, the poll shows that a majority of those surveyed believe that professional positions in the utility industry are going to be affected. I would expect than most downsizing will be done through attrition rather than severance. But younger workers who stay on over the next decade or so will see their jobs change. And I’m thinking that, because of the new challenges and technologies, newer duties won’t be hum-drum. Get yourself in the right spot and you could have a lot of fun!

Paul Mauldin