Closing the skills gap in energy, utilities and construction

The energy, utilities and built environment industries are at a crossroads. The skills required to meet growing customer demands are in short supply, and if these companies don’t do something now they risk being left behind by new, more digitally-capable players entering the market.

Recently, we carried out some research to understand the challenges firms in these sectors are facing and how technology could solve them.

All our findings point to one conclusion: when it comes to closing the skills gap, the time to take action is now.

How did we get to this point?

Part of the problem stems from how these industries have operated over the years.

Take the water sector, for example. Regulators were historically focused on securing investment in new assets to counter years of underfunding. This had a big impact on the workforce because there wasn’t a huge incentive to make the operational side of the business truly effective.

But now firms in these sectors are under pressure to be much more efficient and effective. Suddenly they have to think about whether they have the right technology and skills, and whether they’re going to have enough of those skills in five, ten or even twenty years’ time.

And some of these new skills simply weren’t required until just a few years ago. Why? Because the pace of technological change across all sectors has been quicker than many can keep up with.

There’s plenty of new technology available that can boost business performance, but these tools introduce fresh security risks and changes in the way people work.

This in turn delivers a skills issue: implementing these tech-dependent benefits in an ongoing operation is complex, risky, and requires a whole host of expert IT, change, and programme management skills.

The skillsets required to succeed have shifted and morphed faster than anyone could have predicted, and now many companies are playing catch-up.

Solving the problem

Our report highlighted three key challenges that need to be addressed if these industries are to close the skills gap:

  1. Attracting enough young people
  2. Retaining good employees
  3. Transferring knowledge to new recruits from established teams

Let’s take a look at each of those in more detail…

1. Attracting enough young people

There’s no shying away from it: the energy, utilities and built environment industries are struggling to attract enough young talent.

Our research highlighted an increase in apprenticeships as something organisations could implement  to attract and develop young people with the right skillsets.

Businesses can go some way to attracting new and young talent by creating a modern workplace that reflects their desires for work-life balance. But equally the government and educational institutions need to work with firms to drum up interest in those reaching school-leaving age.

James Dyson launching a new university to help bridge the engineering skills gap is a great example of the kind of action we need in other sectors.

2. Retaining good employees        

The cost of losing a talented employee is twofold: you have the financial cost of replacing them, but also the loss of their skills and knowledge when they leave.

But persuading people to stay in today’s world means providing a workplace to suit their needs – an environment backed by digital tools that allows people to work anywhere and be more productive and effective as a result.

3. Transferring knowledge to new recruits from established teams

When you have workers nearing retirement age who have 30 or more years of experience behind them, how do you capture and retain that knowledge?

Having these employees work almost on a consultancy basis could be extremely valuable. But it relies on them being remotely contactable, which is why a connected workplace is so critical to enabling this kind of collaboration.

AI presents an option here too. Not in the sense of replacing people who can pass on knowledge, but of augmenting their roles to advise and increase the capability of staff with less knowledge. A bit like a sat nav for engineers: offering guidance on what needs doing, but allowing them to take a different route. The AI program, of course, would be learning along at the same time too.

It’s these kinds of collaboration that the next generation are not only used to, but have come to expect. Its specific benefits are numerous, but ultimately it’s a case of ensuring that separate working parties can operate effectively as a single team.

That means, to give a single example, connected field workers being able to receive instant alerts to changes in working conditions that allow them to make a call on accelerating the process of getting customer orders back to headquarters.

It works beyond the organisation too, with collaborating working opening up opportunities to share information with third parties across the entire supply chain.

What happens if the industry doesn’t catch up?

Clearly there are some issues facing these sectors when it comes to skills. So what happens if companies just do nothing?

Firstly, they may struggle to meet regulators’ demands in future because they won’t have the relevant skills in place to meet the associated challenges.

But there’s also the business element and threat of digital disruption. If you don’t take action then other players will inevitably come into the market and do things cheaper, better and using fewer people.

It’s a case of disrupt or be disrupted.

Check our infographic for more insight on creating a connected workplace in the energy, utilities and built environment industries.

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