Attracting the Next Generation of Data Analysts

Utilities are crying out for tech-savvy young graduates and “digital natives” as their industry becomes even more digital.
Published: Wed 28 May 2014

Many college graduates and experienced young professionals aspire to work at the likes of Google, Goldman Sachs and Microsoft-not the utility.

The problem may lie within the utility “brand”. It may not be strong enough to attract the right people with the right skill sets to the power industry.

To revamp their profile and attract a new generation of employees, utilities need to show that the vital, complex service they provide is one befitting the most enthusiastic and talented of individuals, explains Julie Redfield, PA’s talent management expert.

Developing a culture of growth

For utilities to appear attractive to those on the outside, they must develop appropriate conditions from the inside. They can do this by developing a corporate culture that gives employees the opportunity to grow, contribute more and basically have fun in the workplace. This requires leaders with drive, passion and foresight. Their leadership style must be agile and adaptable to changes (whether driven by technology, regulation or the environment) inside and outside the workplace. They also need to be able to listen and respond well to different generations within the ranks. It is imperative that utility leaders remind staff that their role in the community is a critical one. This should be used to regularly instil pride and loyalty in the workforce. Many graduates will be excited by the fact that utilities are exposed to some of the most ground-breaking technology across big data, renewables, distribution and software. Today’s utilities are a fascinating example of how data can be used in a practical and valuable way to track faults or enhance customer service.

We asked John Cannella, Media Relations Specialist at the Ontario Power Authority, what his company is doing to attract data analysts and other professionals. He told us that while their company doesn’t have a need to outsource the data analytics function because they rely on technology for this function; the company is continually updating their capability and training staff.

He explains that the Ontario Power Authority participates in on-campus recruitment and career fairs; they hire co-op students and interns, and have subsequently hired many of these students as employees once they graduate.

Hiring future leaders

Utilities should make it one of their corporate priorities to attract and retain talent across all generations, but especially the young. Utilities need to make sure they are reaching out to future employees as early as elementary and middle school, really playing up their strengths in science and engineering. They should offer internships, apprenticeships, and other programs as alternatives to traditional education. Employee brand proposition should be regularly updated to meet new entrants’ expectations. Finally, coaching and mentoring should be available to existing employees to help build and support future leaders.

While utilities need strong talent management practices to manage through this period of a demographic shift in workforce, these practices will only be sustainable if they have created:

  • the right selling proposition

  • the right conditions for professional success

  • a cadre of agile leaders

Recruitment is ineffective

An industry expert, who wishes to remain anonymous, points out that young graduates in Europe are eager to enter the utility industry as they are excited to work on new issues like smart cities, electric mobility, and green energy.

While this enthusiasm is there for the taking, our source does recognize that utilities may not be sufficiently aware of the challenges that lie ahead: “While strategists, CFOs and CEOs may be aware of the need to alter business models, some of the people hiring do not feel the need to change yet or are just expecting little change. Therefore, in their selection processes, they are still looking for graduates that can continue the current way of doing business, instead of finding young people that can help to adapt to the changes ahead and/or in a new way about creating value.”

Nick Hunn, CTO at WiFore, told Engerati that utilities are faced with a real challenge when it comes to attracting graduates because in contrast to other companies and industries, the utility may look boring. He expands: “Data Scientists like to think of themselves as the new pioneers of tech. Big data, or more properly broad data is seeping into every industry and in some cases is being genuinely transformational. It's in financial services, retail, social media, pharma, aerospace, defence, advertising, broadcast media, gaming, gambling, telecoms, pornography - all of the really exciting industries. All of which are prepared to pay over the odds for bright young analysts who can bring them new customers. In contrast most utilities look pretty boring. Many aren't customer facing, either because they're monopolies or they don't care. Timescales are long, the rewards and savings are often tenuous; so what is there to attract talent?”

Mr Hunn says that most utilities will start relying on external consultancies that will put their poorest analysts onto the task. He explains, “Having worked in a number of sectors, the consultants that get assigned to utilities are nowhere near the grades that do the work for telecoms or medical clients.”

The other issue is whether utilities really want transformation. Mr Hunn points out that at some point, they will be forced to but he thinks they will need to be “dragged kicking and screaming, and in most cases, not until the lights start to go out.” He adds, “Until then, most will be perfectly happy with simple statisticians who can keep on using Excel 2003 and Windows XP.”