One of the significant challenges facing utilities today is an aging workforce. At the same time, there is also the challenge of recruiting and retaining the next generation of workers. Times are changing for utilities, and it is unfortunate that many utilities companies have not made expanding and developing new talent a priority. The result: a talent gap and risks to knowledge transfer for utilities. That isn’t a problem that can just be ignored.
Utilities need to ensure that current workers’ intellectual capital is kept in the company before they retire. Leaders need to develop knowledge transfer best practices, and implementing technology can make them successful and sustainable.
Keeping Knowledge in the Company
Unless the information gained on the job is systematically retained, when workers retire their knowledge retires with them. Because veteran employees may retire before new employees are hired and the high turnover rates for new workers, on-the-job training is no longer a sustainable practice. It’s crucial for experienced workers to document work procedures and other relevant employee knowledge they have gained from experience, otherwise it is gone for good.
To help utilities with knowledge transfer, video and image capturing devices can be used to record processes, equipment usage, and specific nuances for each task. One method being used provides older workers with handheld devices they could use to take field notes. The raw recorded information is then organized to work history, intricate job plans, outlining the details of how tasks should be performed and any tools required for the work. By formalizing the knowledge from experienced workers into institutional knowledge, it can be used for future training, guidance, and reference by many workers rather than just those directly trained by the individual.
Passing It On
With the increase in retirement eligibility, generational shift, and rising turnover rates, utilities companies may need to re-evaluate their training methods. Even with a comprehensive training program, there will still be a visible difference in experience and knowledge when comparing veterans and new hires. With traditional on-the-job training being less sustainable, implementing new technology into training methods could help create successful knowledge transfer for utilities.
Augmented reality and virtual reality technology have been embraced by many training programs to practice skills in a simulation without a devoted trainer, but the technology could serve a role to bridge the knowledge gap between utility workers. AR and VR technology can allow for a single expert in the office to give remote guidance to the engineers in the field, maximizing efficiency while avoiding additional costs. Through this remote assistance, knowledge transfer can then occur from one expert to an entire team of junior engineers.
The Next Generation
Protecting the knowledge of retiring workers is important, but so is attracting new workers to fill their shoes. An example presented by GE is the Nuclear Energy Institute which set up a collaborative industry workforce consisting of supply chain, utilities, government, and academia.
The result of their efforts was an education and training program concentrated in schools around the country which has expanded to include more than 30 university programs, 27 community colleges that provide training for technicians, and 6 mechanic apprenticeships. Those talent pipelines can provide all the new workers that are needed to keep the 99 U.S. power plants in operation.
Technology is there to help knowledge transfer for utilities, but people are the most important part in making sure that the future of the industry is a success.