I had the great fortune to sit down with Glenn Steiger, former GM of Glendale Power & Water, to chat about the human resources challenges they faced before, during and after their AMI deployment. Glendale was the first to sign on the dotted line with the Department of Energy, and is recognized as having set the gold standard for meter deployment and integration. Having deployed 120,000 fully operational smart meters on time and within budget, Glenn shared the following keys to success as it relates to Smart Grid human capital requirements:
- Open the door to relocation: While larger utilities in tech-rich geographic areas will have less of a problem finding local talent, competition in areas like the Silicon Valley is fierce, and relocation may still be necessary to achieve optimal staffing levels. Smaller utilities in less populous areas will have to budget for relocation to attract the right talent. Glendale accommodated relocation for close to 60% of its new technical staff.
- Ratchet technical compensation budgets 15% - 30%: It's a real-world example of Economics 101 - demand exceeds supply, and as a result, the price of labor is rising. While it may be more difficult for municipalities and co-ops to get budget increases approved, it is vital to finishing a deployment on time. Few utilities (or vendors for that matter), consider the opportunity cost of a position left vacant while searching for an employee who will accept less than the going rate. Not to mention the declining employee retention rates that ensue. Glendale experienced a 15% - 20% increase in technical labor cost.
- Anticipate a 2-3 year technical employee shelf life: "Techies" are on the 2-3 year plan. Motivated by projects that will have a significant impact on a business, they will work night and day to complete a project, but when it's done, they are on to the next best thing - which in their minds is rarely with the same employer. Instead of avoiding employees with a "job hopper" resume, utilities need to embrace these candidates, as they are the worker bees who are committed and able to successfully complete a project on time. To compensate for this inherent attrition, employers should adjust their hiring strategy accordingly, consistently filling the pipeline with like candidates to take their places when the time comes.
- Consider contracting arrangements to jump-start project success: Finding full-time employees with the right skill set is rarely expeditious. Techies naturally gravitate towards contract agencies as they offer opportunities that are in line with their 2-3 year plan. While more challenging in less populous areas, finding a reputable contract workforce agency can significantly speed up the process of finding qualified talent. Glendale relied on contracted human resources to ensure their deadlines were met. This non-traditional workforce also offered them a workaround to the challenges posed by the often lengthy and certainly less feasible salary increase approval process imposed by the municipality.
- Partner with specialized recruiters for long-term success: Niche recruiters in the Smart Grid sector can add significant value if they have done their homework. A specialization in this unique sector can abbreviate the hiring timeline as well as offer unique insights into compensation requirements, opportunistic hiring opportunities and human resources game plan development and maintenance.
Finding top-rate technical talent isn't the only challenge utilities will face. Read more about Glendale's AMI roadblocks and their corresponding solutions in: "Glendale Power and Water Sets Gold Standard for AMI".
Glenn Steiger is currently an independent consultant providing smart grid, renewable energy, energy efficiency and management business/ operational strategy services to the energy and water industries. He is the former General Manager/CEO of Glendale (California) Water & Power (GWP) where he transitioned the utility through the integration of “smart grid” technology, water and energy efficiency and a significant increase in the provision of renewable energy. Under his leadership, GWP was the first utility in the United States to receive federal stimulus funding for its “smart grid” initiative, and the first to be fully smart-grid operational for both its electric and water utilities and achieved one of the highest percentages of renewable power (24%) within California. Mr. Steiger has provided internationally-recognized water/energy nexus and smart grid consulting services to utilities in Australia, Brazil, Thailand, China and numerous European countries. In addition he was honored by GridWeek with its 2010 “Excellence in Smart Grid Deployment” award and by Intelligent Utilities as one of 2011’s “Movers and Shakers”.