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Smarter Workforce for Smart Grid

Building Workforce of the Future (WoF) has been a key priority for utilities for some time now. While "ageing workforce" was the earliest driver, it truly became a critical business priority with the advent of Smart Grid. We see WoF initiatives taking center-stage in many Smart Grid demonstration projects. That is rightly so.

Smart Grid technologies touch every aspect of power supply and delivery. The traditional meter to cash infrastructure based on 1-way communication is being replaced by a complex communication infrastructure with devices in the field that enable 2-way communication. Big changes are coming in Distribution and even Transmission and Generation sides with renewables integration, PEV and energy storage. I talked about the importance of customer engagement in my earlier blog. That is only one side of the coin though. The big changes mentioned above need significant investment in enabling the utility workforce who must lead customers through this change. This workforce has to be technology savvy, dynamic and adaptive to change. This is in contrast with the majority of the utility existing employees coming from Boomers generation.

Is that an insurmountable problem or is there an opportunity for the utilities? I believe Smart Grid opens up a world of opportunities here. With greater avenues to innovate, be creative, learn new technical skills in a dynamically changing environment, and a sense of social and environmental responsibility - utilities finally can craft a message that would resonate well with the new generations. That is not enough though. There has to be changes on the ground to attract and retain the right talent to build the WoF.

There is good industry-academia partnership on Smart Grid technologies but limited progress has happened on building curricula and university courses on Power Engineering focused on Smart Grid. Millennials prefer to collaborate and network but that is not the traditional work environment at utilities. Social Media is gaining some attention from customer engagement perspective but it is mostly ignored from WoF perspective.

Finally, it will take some time before the pipeline of new generation starts entering the workforce. The training of existing employees is important not only to build the base support structure in the meantime but also to bring the required organizational changes to induct the new workforce smoothly. Given the diversity of job tasks and employee profile, I will leave this subject for another blog.

All in all, I have a feeling that how smart the grid is might ultimately depend more on the smartness of employees (Operators, CSRs, Linemen, Troublemen, Technicians etc.) than that of technology or customers. Let me know if you think I am exaggerating.

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