Wanted: Young Engineers

If you are a utility struggling with an aging workforce, I offer a few suggestions.

If You are A Utility Struggling with an Aging Workforce, I Offer A Few Suggestions. Employees close to retirement need to ensure the company is left in good hands, because that's where your retirement is coming from. Those who fall into the middle-age group need to realize the engineers and other employees who are entering the workgroup are going to be working with and for you, so take an interest in who your company is hiring. For people beginning their career, pay attention to what your company is doing to prepare you to take over the lead in some key parts of your business.

As the workforce continues to age, almost every sector of our industry faces a critical shortage of qualified engineers. Oncor is no exception. Like many utilities, our engineers between the ages of 40 and 60 far outnumber the under-40 age group. This means we have a substantial number of folks we need to hire, and we also need to move our existing engineers more quickly through the company ranks than in previous years.

Realizing how competitive the engineering job market has become, Oncor has developed a program to attract and retain high-quality young utility engineers and ensure they know how many exciting opportunities our industry has to offer.

WHAT DOES ONCOR'S PLAN ENTAIL?

We are improving our recruiting process by increasing our use of interns and implementing new summer work programs. We also are active in the INROADS program, which focuses on minority students. Additionally, we are strengthening our presence on college campuses. Another proactive step we are taking is to introduce the “engineers of tomorrow” to the “utility of tomorrow.” Too much in present academia focuses on the old plod-along, power-driven utility, which had a lot to do with power-generation technology. As the T&D utilities of the future move toward the smart grid, they have many new-generation resources and new technology changes to consider.

Oncor has implemented a fast-track program designed to function for the first five years of an engineer's employment. The program calls for every new engineer to be paired with a mentor. No matter what section of Oncor the new engineer happens to be working in, this mentor stays with him or her throughout the five-year period. We believe this mentorship program will accomplish a variety of things. One important feature is to provide an internal contact to consult when he or she has questions about the company, such as career discussions and challenges faced. An additional part of Oncor's plan is to give our new engineer recruits a comprehensive look at the corporation during their first six months in the business. Then, throughout the five-year program in 6- or 24-month rotations, the engineers will move through a number of Oncor's key departments. All engineers in the program — whether they have been participating for six months or four years — will meet three times a year to build networking opportunities inside the company. We also will include professional development sessions at these meetings to inform them about what is going on in the business.

ONCOR'S LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM

To bridge the gap between our maturing workforce and developing employees, Oncor has implemented a Leadership Development program. We realize the traditional mentality of moving employees up through the organization one step at a time will not satisfy our needs created by retirements. Thus, Oncor has established a systematic way to identify and promote employees we feel are capable of handling significant stretch assignments. When you move employees this fast, however, you need to ensure they receive the support they need. To fulfill this obligation, we hold formal performance reviews four times per year. Both the employee's current manager and mentor attend these reviews. It is important to note that employees volunteer to participate in our Leadership Development program. In fact, the first group at Oncor had four times as many volunteers as we had spots available.

Oncor also employs a focused use of developmental meetings and industry activities to enhance development. These meetings are designed to inform new engineers and Leadership Development employees about what is going on inside our company and inside the industry, and to expose them to outside contacts. One of the best resources for some of this training has been T&D World University.

Let me leave you with this thought. In every venue you participate, sell the utility business. Oncor learned this firsthand when our summer interns informed us we needed to sell our story better — that Oncor is a more exciting place to work than what they generally hear on campus. So, we challenged them to put together a sales piece for us to use. They put their heads together and, in true young engineer fashion, they came back to us with a first-class formal CD-based video presentation. We never expected anything less.


Rob Trimble is president and COO of Oncor.

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