The following comes from our interview with Gary McAuliffe, V.P. of Global Utilities for Librestream. McAuliffe spoke with us at POWERGEN International 2022 about how utility leaders are handling an aging workforce and the company’s latest whitepaper. Librestream is a software company that uses digital worker technologies to connect field workers with the information and knowledge to be able to do their jobs more efficiently and safely. Watch the full interview above.
Q: Let’s talk about the current state of the workforce in energy and utilities. I mean, we are really seeing a mass exodus, aren’t we?
McAuliffe: “Yeah, we’re in a situation where, at this point, almost 50% of the utility workforce is eligible for retirement over the next decade. So we’re talking about really a significant amount of our most experienced, most tenured professionals are going to be leaving the industry.”
Q: And with that, all that knowledge that comes with it. Why is that such a paradigm shift for the industry?
McAuliffe: “Well, I think traditionally, so much of that knowledge was kept in the heads of our most experienced workers. So they spent 20 or 30 or 40 years learning their trade, learning their job. And a lot of that knowledge just wasn’t digitized, it was just in their head. So as an industry, I think we’re concerned about whether that information is going to retire along with them. And I think it’s something that we really need to address.”
Q: And a lot of this is in the subject of this new white paper, right?
McAuliffe: “Yeah, we’ve just released a white paper about this idea of workforce transformation, leveraging technologies to really capture knowledge of all workers, but really, particularly those that are retiring and making sure that that information doesn’t leave when they leave out the door.”
Q: How do we optimize the workforce, this new workforce and do it in a digitized way?
McAuliffe: “Well, I think, as we’re seeing in a lot of other industries, we’re just not going to have enough people to do all the work that needs to be done. So, a lot of efforts in, how do we leverage technology to optimize things like work processes and procedures? How can we patch information to the worker at the time of service?
Our industry has always focused on what I described as ‘just in case training.’ But the idea of actually patching in knowledge at the time of service, to be able to help our workers come up to speed faster was a really critical element.”
Q: What are some of the differences between the workforce that’s aging out and the workforce that’s coming in?
McAuliffe: “It’s a significant difference. I mean, I think if you look at the band of those workers that are on the cusp of retirement, they all stayed or generally, on average stayed 10 or more years in their work.
I think the generation of, call it the millennial generation, is tending to be more like two to three [years] in a job. So you just don’t have that long-standing ability to learn lots of things. And so, we’ve got to be able to, from an institutional perspective, digitize more of that capability for the worker.”
Q: What are our biggest obstacles here in the years to come in order to optimize the workforce?
McAuliffe: “I think there’s a lot. The technology in both on the utility and generation side, there’s a lot of, when you think about things like renewables and how a lot of new technologies are going to be incorporated into the overall market, I think it’s going to be very critical to be able to train people to be able to get them access to information for them to have tools. Things like computer vision, the ability to actually identify equipment, the without having to have that years of experience as part of that process.”
Q: How can digital solutions like augmented reality, for example, assist in this effort?
McAuliffe: “Yeah, a lot of what we’re doing at Librestream is providing that capability to assist the worker in various ways: augment what they’re doing with knowledge, augment what they’re doing with video, a lot of things like that to really enable more capabilities and more information.”
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