Employers of choice

Tackling the looming skills gap requires the utility industry to take a holistic, long-term view of workforce planning and management, says Kevin White, and that means looking at working patterns.

A crucial factor missing from the Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership’s Workforce Renewal and Skills Strategy is working patterns. Their importance to successful recruitment and retention cannot be overstated.

Shift patterns influence everything from productivity and efficiency to customer service and working time compliance. Crucially, they will also play a vital role in attracting the next generation of talent and extending the working lives of existing employees.

Many companies maintain legacy approaches to resourcing that are unnecessarily complex, inflexible and hard to manage. When working patterns fail to keep pace with wider change the symptoms are instantly recognisable: high overtime; long-hours; stress; reliance on goodwill; increased absence; and compliance breaches.

These are not traits you would associate with an “employer of choice”.

Attracting 221,000 new recruits over the next ten years will require the utilities industry to align itself with the demands of a younger and more diverse labour pool. This future workforce is likely to have a very different attitude towards working time than the generations that preceded it.

The hours you work affect all areas of your life and increasing emphasis is being placed on certainty, fairness and flexibility. Creating modern patterns of work that reflect these expectations will be essential if utilities are to succeed in a highly competitive labour market.

Achieving balance

Long hours and overtime cultures persist in many organisations that operate outdated and inefficient working time arrangements. This may make careers in the utilities industry appear unattractive to millennials and certain demographics with different priorities.

For example, high overtime earning does not help those struggling to get on the housing ladder. Instead, they are looking for a decent and secure basic salary.

Work-life balance and flexibility are also key considerations, particularly for those with family commitments. Research shows that these are no longer a nice to have. Instead, they are increasingly viewed as second only to salary in terms of importance to millennials.

With many in the labour market seeking employers who actively support their well­being and work-life balance, the utility industry needs to ensure its working patterns and rosters are attractive and competitive.

Any modernisation programme should focus on creating flexible, adaptable, and responsive shift patterns that provide:

  • more predictable working hours (and therefore certainty on earnings);
  • options suited to different life stages and lifestyles;
  • an equitable distribution of working pattern types that are safe and compliant;
  • greater autonomy, with employees able to use mobile self-service systems to easily plan and manage their working time. 

Avoiding a cliff-edge

Of course, recruitment is just one side of the challenge. Retention is also key to avoiding any serious shortfall when, as projected by the Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership, 20 per cent of the workforce retires over the next decade.

Optimised patterns can eliminate reliance on long hours and goodwill, ensuring valuable, skilled employees do not become overworked or demotivated. Creating working time arrangements that suit individuals wanting to work reduced hours enables the transfer of valuable skills during a phased transition into retirement.

To become employer of choice in a highly competitive environment requires a concerted industry-wide effort to deliver the priorities highlighted in the Workforce Renewal and Skills Strategy. However, introducing optimised, flexible and appealing patterns of work is a relatively low-risk fix that can deliver immediate and lasting benefits.

Ultimately, working time should adapt to remain in line with both employer and employees’ needs. It is essential that the utilities industry focuses on continuous improvement in this area, ensuring working patterns remain optimised, attractive and fit for purpose long into the future.