Closing the talent gap in the utilities industry

Caroline Evans, Corporate Strategy Director at Arden University, explores the strategies utilities companies must implement to both attract and retain talent in the workforce. In doing so, she also explores why more utilities businesses should consider investing in training and upskilling to protect the long-term future of their operations.

Caroline Evans, Corporate Strategy Director at Arden University.
Caroline Evans, Corporate Strategy Director at Arden University.

The utilities industry has experienced a significant talent drain since the pandemic, which has seen an exodus of workers. This is particularly acute in water, with the industry now struggling to fill 35% of its vacancies – and the challenge is only expected to intensify in the coming years, with the sector predicted to need an additional 63,000 workers to fill vacancies over the next five years.

Demand for utilities has shifted in recent years, as the sector moves towards tackling the challenges of climate change. However, this shift is coupled with a lack of skilled labour to meet growing demand, resulting in a number of recruitment challenges. It’s widely recognised that a big reason for the utilities talent shortage is its ageing workforce – as many workers reach retirement age and leave the industry, there are fewer individuals coming into the industry to replace them. On top of this, the industry’s lack of diversity poses more problems.

When it comes to attracting the next generation of talent, expectations from the workplace have shifted post-pandemic – with flexible working, digitalisation and wellbeing practices now the norm. For the traditionalist utilities industry, it’s time to move with the times to attract and retain the best talent and close the widening skills gap.

Future-proofing operations

To tackle the ongoing skills shortage in utilities, businesses must focus on investing in training and development opportunities. In tandem with the UK government’s ‘returnships’ initiative, to encourage adults over the age of 50 to get back into work, learning and development could support the industry in closing its skills gap.

Many believe the utilities sector has been slow to adapt, particularly when it comes to technological developments, such as adjusting to digitalisation. Due to the challenges of climate change, this has meant some segments of the utilities sector have transformed more rapidly than others, seeing a shift in talent in the industry. To combat this, there needs to be greater investment in training for those currently working in the utilities industry, as well as a big push for reskilling individuals from different industries.

However, Arden University’s own research has found that many adults struggle with the notion of reskilling, with a lack of confidence being one of the main factors preventing them from exploring a new industry or job, and less than half (44%) of people feeling there is adequate support and opportunities to change career in the UK. The paradox of those with the greatest experience and specialist talent feeling unsupported to find their place in a changing employment market has the worrying potential to push great talent out of the utilities industry, without an influx of young talent to bridge the gap.

The role of degree apprenticeships

Offering degree apprenticeships to employees is a great option for both retraining and upskilling, while also ensuring commercial benefits for employers. Just under half of those who start on apprenticeships are aged 25 and over, and there are about 29,000 people aged 45 to 59 in training, providing a large talent pool. Not only would this attract those looking to change careers, but it could also bring back individuals who may have taken a break from the industry, bringing their previous experience with them.

With just 8% of the industry’s workforce currently under the age of 24, degree apprenticeships could also attract the younger generation into utilities, supporting the sector’s need to undergo digital transformation, while ensuring the future security of the industry, as the older generation retires.

The traditional utilities industry is facing very specific issues in terms of transformational shifts, and the impact this is having on the workforce. That’s why degree apprenticeships can play an important role in ensuring bespoke learning and development opportunities, specific to the industry, that also deliver a commercial impact.

While the challenges facing the utilities industry won’t be solved overnight, focusing on investing in learning and development opportunities will nurture those currently in the sector, attract those outside the sector and allow businesses to ensure they retain talent, ultimately, future-proofing operations.



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