With 200,000 electric utility professionals expected to retire over the next 10 years, BPA and other organizations are looking at news ways to share knowledge between industry veterans and new energy professionals.
The energy efficiency industry is facing a troubling situation and it’s not due to low energy prices and modest load growth. The threat staring energy efficiency organizations in the face is succession planning, or in this case, the passing of the energy-saving torch.
Industry trends suggest the largest groups of professionals fall into two categories: relative newcomers with less than five years of experience or experts with more than 25 years of energy efficiency experience.
“We’re seeing a major transition in the industry workforce,” says Danielle Gidding, energy efficiency planning specialist with the Bonneville Power Administration.
According to a paper by Dr. Alan Hardcastle with the Washington State University Extension Energy Program, half of the nation’s electric utility workforce is projected to retire over the next 10 years, which represents a loss of about 200,000 experienced workers. As the elders of energy efficiency begin to retire, the industry is facing a huge loss of information, knowledge and lessons learned.
“It’s important to understand the historical values and logic of energy efficiency so we don’t re-invent any cog in the energy-saving wheel or repeat the mistakes of the past,” Gidding says.
Gidding collaborated with Tom Eckman, manager of conservation resources at the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, and Kenneth Keating, a retired evaluation and market research lead at BPA, on a presentation that highlights the situation and points out information that needs to be passed along to future generations of energy services professionals. Gidding shared their presentation, “The Geezers and the Geeks: Passing the Thumb Drive of Energy Efficiency Knowledge,” at a recent event hosted by the Northwest chapter of the Association of Energy Services Professionals in Portland, Ore.
“Danielle made an impassioned argument for why we need to proactively pass down key lessons that have been learned by our industry’s veterans,” said AESP member Jonathan Holz, associate manager of Fluid Market Strategies. “If we don’t do this now, we run the risk of losing the context for why our industry is what it is today.”
The presentation also suggests that while identifying decades of insights to share is one challenge, effectively documenting and sharing them as part of a succession plan presents quite another.
Planning for employee turnover isn’t a new issue for BPA, but the agency is approaching it in a more strategic way.
“Addressing the lack of bench strength in critical skills and competencies is a top agency priority,” says Allegra Hodges, management and program analyst in the agency’s Integrated Strategy and Policy group. A key focus of BPA’s 2013-2014 Talent Management Strategy is to strengthen the agency’s internal talent bench, which includes developing succession plans for critical functions like energy efficiency that are key to delivering on long-term objectives.
Fortunately, technology has made passing along the “geezers’” stories a little easier. Whether it’s a wiki, online video, web forum or flash drive (also known as a USB or thumb drive), there are plenty of new ways to transfer knowledge before industry veterans step into retirement.
“The real challenge is finding effective ways to transfer knowledge from those of us who still refer to the hashtag symbol as a pound sign to the next generation who type it in their tweets using their thumbs,” Eckman says.