Future focus: How to recruit for the evolution of the utilities sector

How to recruit for the evolution of the utilities sector

Terry Noble, Consultant in our Industrial Practice, explains how the utilities sector can attract talent as it looks to evolve

In a YouGov poll examining the public attitudes to the household energy market, a mere 7% of respondents said they ‘trust the UK utilities industry to focus on the best interests of its customers and wider society.’ It is a snapshot of the wider public opinion of UK utilities that makes talent acquisition for energy and water companies so challenging. So how do you attract talent into a sector that is perceived so poorly in the eyes of the public, especially at a time when many in the sector are looking to create more future focused businesses?

We invited Jonathan Kini, Chief Executive at Drax Retail to speak at our recent Utilities breakfast event. Alongside 22 other senior executives across the energy sector, he shared his thoughts around how the sector needed to evolve and what this meant for recruiting future talent. If you’re looking at driving change and building your workforce for the future, here’s a few things you ought to know. 

Drawing talent into the utilities sector can be a tough sell, especially at the grass roots level where the Googles and Apples of this world can present a much more ‘exciting’ proposition. You therefore need to build a storyline of what your organisation stands for and where it’s going. There is, now more than ever, a fierce desire amongst the workforce to drive sustainability and energy companies are well placed as a force for good in this regard. Being big on purpose is a proposition that can be used to excite people about joining the sector and something that can be built into your organisation’s unique selling point. Water and energy are essential needs for the human population and the utilities sector is indispensable in providing both; a fact that should be incorporated into your recruitment process.

With this in mind, there is also a growing opportunity to sell the technology angle to prospective employees. The modern electric grid is becoming increasingly data-driven. Looking to the future, utilities companies are considering how they can use ‘Big Data’ to achieve energy conservation, create live data feeds and implement predictive analytics to manage leakage and asset maintenance. The sector as a whole is becoming increasingly data intensive and this will put utilities companies on the same playing field as telecommunications and technology companies when it comes to the types of roles they can offer. 

Technology will be an integral aspect of how the sector evolves and utilities companies will need to embrace smart technology or risk being disrupted in the same way the financial services industry has been disrupted by fintech companies. It presents an opportunity to both ‘home grow’ your own talent and fish in alternative talent pools. You should be pushing the agenda to reskill your own workforce for the incoming ‘smart’ revolution, as well as looking to individuals in adjacent industries where smart technologies and in particular industrial internet of things (IIoT) have already taken root. These kinds of digital skills are sector agnostic and it means you can look to other sectors for talent that can evolve and grow your organisation.

Increasing technological advancement and the emergence of industry disruptors means the pace of change in the utilities sector is only going to gain momentum. In conflict with this is the sector’s often dogmatic belief that it needs to look inward for skills and that people need to have a background in the sector in order to work in the sector. In sticking to the mantra of ‘doing what we’ve always done’, you risk falling behind the competition and open yourself up to disruption. Utilities companies need to look to other sectors and be open minded about where they recruit from. For example, with utilities companies becoming increasingly customer-centric, it’s worth looking to the retail sector, amongst others, for senior managers with customer relations and e-commerce skills.

At the forefront of your recruitment process should be diversity, and creating a diverse workforce should be a business goal. McKinsey’s 2018 Delivering through Diversity report looked at the impact of diversity in the workplace and from amongst the 1000 companies they analysed, those with the most gender diverse executive teams ‘were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability and 27% more likely to have superior value creation’. To make this happen, you need to be challenging both your organisation to drive diversity in the workplace and your recruitment partner to produce a more diverse pool of candidates.

This all needs to be seen through the lens of medium to long term planning. You need to be hiring for the next 12 months, not for tomorrow. This results in holding on to talent for 5 years, not for 5 minutes and is part of a broader school of thought and cultural change that ‘future-proofs’ an organisation but it’s not easy to implement. Boards are still made up of ‘old industry hands’ and ex-regulators who may have a disconnect with the picture on the ground. It means being honest with the management team about recruiting for the future and why you’re investing in skillsets rather than just getting someone to fill a role.

Easier said than done perhaps. The utilities sector has historically been on the receiving end of regulatory waves that have put many in the sector on the defensive when it comes to taking risks; changing behaviours is therefore not easy. Looking to the future however, a risk averse and conservative attitude is a recipe for failure and utilities companies will need to adapt their workforces to a faster pace and changing customer demands if they are to remain competitive.


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