Young Talent Can Save Utilities From the ‘Death Spiral’

Young innovators will help the energy industry to prepare itself for the energy transition.
Published: Fri 31 Jul 2015

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Significant change in the energy industry calls for a stimulation in innovation across all sectors and what better way than to tap new ideas from young and eager minds? A quote from philosopher and author Shunryu Suzuki echoes this: “In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few.”

In recognition of this need for the industry to innovate, European Utility Week has set up a Young Talent Programme at this year’s event.  Students, young professionals and those working for a university or technical institute related to the utility industry are being given a voice at the event.

OMNETRIC Group, a strong supporter of entrepreneurial culture in the workplace, is sponsoring the programme. The firm, an initiative established between Siemens and Accenture, helps utilities harness the benefits of a more digitized grid.

In an exclusive interview with Engerati, Maikel van Verseveld, CEO of OMNETRIC Group, says that the firm is well-placed to offer this sponsorship as it truly understands the meaning of embracing new cultures and ideas. With OMNETRIC Group being developed by two companies, it has already experienced the amalgamation of different cultures. Other experts outside of Siemens and Accenture have also been added to the melting pot so three cultures have been sharing their experiences and expertise. “We want to avoid a predominant heritage and develop one new culture that fosters agility, collaboration and deep industry and technology expertise.”

Energy industry should be at the forefront of innovation

Mr van Verseveld says that the energy industry is still viewed as ‘traditional’ in its outlook. He says that while there are some industry players that are transforming themselves, the sector is still largely viewed as old fashioned by the younger generation.

Young talent, Dmytro Grygorenko (pictured), former computer science graduate of the Technical University Vienna and today, consultant at OMNETRIC Group, says that in his experience, the utility industry is not very well-presented in the job market especially when compared to other industries. He points to the IT sector as being highly attractive with companies like Linkedin, Google, Apple and Microsoft offering many opportunities to young talents like him across all sorts of medium. He says that he wasn’t aware that the energy industry had so many exciting opportunities until recently. With utilities having to go digital, the energy sector is now searching for innovators to help bring together the worlds of information and operations technology.

According to Mr van Verseveld, the utility space should be at the forefront of attracting new young talents who don’t just want a nice salary and new car. “They want to learn and leave a legacy. The utility industry has plenty of room for these young people to showcase their talents and the industry should collectively support them.”

Young talent and graduate of the Technical University Vienna, Ms Kateryna Zaslavska, who is now an OMNETRIC Group data analyst, told Engerati that the energy industry needs to view young talent as a long-term investment through ongoing support and on the job training. “It’s important for graduates to know that they will receive this support from experienced staff especially when tackling new projects.”

Mr van Verseveld recalls how, when he started his career 18 years ago in 1998, he was lucky enough to be given the chance to learn from the experts around him and that he was also given the opportunity to showcase his talents and impart new, much-needed insights with the utility industry. He explains: “The Millennial generation wants to work for companies that are at the forefront of innovation and are changing the world.”

He adds that while young innovators can learn a great deal from the existing and experienced workforce, it’s important for them to evolve in an environment where they can challenge existing concepts and propose new ideas. “They should complement each other by combining experiences.” Mr Grygorenko points out that because smart technologies are relatively new to the energy industry, the participation of all team members-both existing staff and new talents-are critical if problems are to be solved effectively.

Making room for innovation

Utilities are one of the worst performing sectors on the stock exchange over the last five years, says Mr van Verseveld, so it is more critical than ever that the sector transforms itself by employing more innovative contributors. In so doing, utilities can prepare themselves for the many changes on the horizon.  

He says that utilities need to develop or strengthen weak spots in their business models because if they don’t, more innovative companies—possibly much smaller in terms of revenue and staff—will snap up the opportunity for new revenue streams.

“To avoid this, many of our clients are bringing in expertise to break down existing and ageing structures that are no longer working. This will create room for new innovations within various parts of the company where it is needed, such as data analytics. By breaking down silos, opportunities for innovation will open up.”

By introducing a different viewpoint to the table, utilities will be given the opportunity to think outside of the box, he says, “They may recognise trends and identify opportunities earlier than their competitors.” This perspective calls for constant innovation, according to Ms Zaslavska.  

In conclusion, Mr van Verseveld says that he is looking forward to European Utility Week as it will give his firm a pulse for 2015 on where the utility industry is headed. He says that regulators and government should attend the event in order to obtain a better understanding of where the utility sector needs to be.

“We have to shape the market together and if we don’t hear what other countries are doing, we may miss out on many opportunities to improve the region’s regulations. By creating the young talent section and “Young Innovator Award”, the event organizer is bringing together a true ecosystem.