Utility executives looking to recruit the smartest engineering graduates have lots to offer: Tens of billions of dollars of fresh investment pouring into grid modernization and sustainability projects, cutting-edge communications technology, and creating state of the art big data platforms and using machine learning to create insights to improve reliability and increase efficiencies. So why is it so hard to attract young talent into the utility business?
Perhaps utilities aren’t getting the message out, or they’re not actively recruiting for the right talent. The same companies that built out the nation’s water, gas, and electricity grids at the turn of the last century are now going through the biggest transformation since Thomas Edison wired up New York City in 1882. Utilities are projected to spend half-a-trillion dollars over the next few decades installing digital technology to increase efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. From their pioneering history to their bright future, utilities are inherently innovative—but ask young talent if they share that view, and you might get some raised eyebrows.
Even with the publicized plans to invest in technology to transform our energy system, it’s tough to convince recent graduates to reject the allure of innovative, agile Silicon Valley in favor of an industry their grandparents viewed as a safe place to build a career. Here then is the challenge for utility executives: To translate the very clear vision of where the industry is going into simple messages explaining how that vision will translate to innovative and fast-paced daily work. Today’s graduates aren’t pension seekers who place long-term careers at the top of their list of priorities. They want exciting projects, opportunities for rapid advancement, flexible work environments, and above all, they demand accountability from management. In return, utilities want—and need—the bright young tech talent coming out of our nation’s universities.
Sustainability is also a big motivator for younger talent. A decade ago utility executives mostly treated renewable energy as a small piece of the pie they needn’t worry much about. Now the utility industry is in the middle of what could be the world’s biggest sustainability program, with practically every project aimed toward increasing efficiency, decreasing waste, or reducing reliance on fossil fuels like coal. Does young, fresh talent view utilities this way? Likely not.
The industry is also investing billions in communications systems and analytics designed to shape demand and shift usage to the most advantageous times of day. Utilities are experimenting with leading-edge technology like blockchain to power transactional energy programs allowing customers to buy and sell electricity at the neighborhood level through community-owned solar and wind installations. Every new project is an opportunity for the next generation of leaders to grasp what is possible and get actively engaged in work that, without hyperbole, has the potential to change the world.
Some are already doing it, so the playbook isn’t hard to find.
Millennials aren’t going to stick around in jobs where innovation is stifled – intentionally or otherwise – and the career path consists of waiting for their older colleagues to retire. They want to use the latest technology to solve complex problems and reap the rewards for doing it. Silicon Valley figured out this simple equation years ago. The utility industry has everything it needs to do the same thing.