WANTED: Young Guns
Refreshing your image to lasso in Millennials.
“Nobody wants to work for a
utility. It’s old, boring, and terrible for the environment. I mean, what would
it be like to tell someone at a party that you work for a utility? It’s like
something my grandpa would do.” —Anonymous Millennial in the professional
This reflects the attitude
Millennials (those born between 1979–1994—also known as Generation Y) within the
professional world hold concerning employment at an energy utility.
Organizations understand the importance of recruiting young talent to backfill
the mass migration of the baby boomer segment scheduled to retire within the
next 10 years, but this negative perception dominates the minds of the key
According to the US Department of
Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, employees aged 20–24 comprise 3.3% of the
utilities industry workforce, while the same age range comprises 9.6% of all
industry workforces—almost triple the amount of fresh college graduates as
utilities. Similarly, employees aged 25–34 represented within the utilities
industry workforce compared to all industry workforces is 15.5% to 21.5%,
Unsuccessful attempts (or a lack
thereof) to onboard Millennials pose a serious threat to not only the physical
industry-specific skilled labor, but also intellectual capital and critical
knowledge retention—the bonding, ultra-adhesive gel of an organization. Without
this, a company can crumble. But there is hope. Energy utilities that practice
self-awareness, glean insight from other industry role models that have
re-imaged themselves, promote recent college graduates’ interests, and plan
sustainability initiatives stand a solid chance at refreshing its image and
lassoing in Millennials.
Take Three Paces, Then Draw!
First Pace—Who You Lookin’ for, Cowboy?
Clearly, common perceptions about
the energy utilities industry present a serious obstacle in recruiting young
talent. Millennials view the industry as old, antiquated, and hierarchical.
Awareness of this perception, as well as Generation Y qualities, is the first
step in formulating a solution to encourage an influx of junior employees.
Like any generation, Millennials
are characterized by a unique set of traits that can be attributed to societal,
relational, and environmental factors that impacted the world in which they were
raised. For example, Generation Y participates heavily in extracurricular
activities. Increasing competition to enter institutions of higher education
spurs this involvement. The National Admission for College Admission Counseling
claims that 75% of colleges reported an increase in the number of applications
for fall admission from 2005 to 2006, while 7% reported no change, and only 18%
reported a decrease. Nowadays, high engagement outside of the classroom is a
well-known asset to achieve college admission. Needless to say, this generation
stays busy. And they do not know what it is like to not be busy, thus mastering
the art of multitasking.
High involvement in
extracurricular activities also fosters Millennials’ desire to work
collaboratively to achieve common goals. Whether it is soccer practice,
community volunteer initiatives, or the next school play, all such activities
share a highly collaborative nature. These experiences transfer directly to
their professional expectations. Recent college graduates search for a
team-oriented work environment where groups of employees realize shared
objectives together, sometimes even debunking opportunities which reward
individual performance over that of the collective team.
In these collaborative groups,
this generation seeks the guidance of experienced employees via mentorships.
Whereas previous generations traditionally strive to demonstrate their
individual capabilities independently, Millennials actively look for mentors and
demand role models from which they can soak in knowledge.
The current green movement
reflects another characteristic of Millennials—their concern for a healthy
globe. Environmental consciousness was not introduced yesterday. The oldest
group of Generation Y learned the importance of reducing, reusing, and recycling
during elementary school science classes. College graduates prove to be the most
passionate supporters of environmental preservation initiatives that continue to
grow momentum today. One recent study shows that 78% of Millennials believe
companies have a responsibility to join them in efforts to better the
environment, and nearly 80% of Millennials want to work for a company that cares
about how it contributes to society.
Finally, this generation loves
cutting-edge technology. Throughout their youth, they have seen history’s
greatest technological advancements. Millennials observed the Internet’s
transformation from Al Gore’s café napkin invention to the complexities of
search engines, e-mail, file sharing, and instant messaging. These constant
innovative improvements with regard to the availability, sharing, and analysis
of data and information support their optimistic approach for viewing the sky as
the limit to how technology development will make the world a better place.
Recent college graduates cannot imagine life without these technological
advancements and demand hands-on involvement in the latest and greatest on a
Second Pace—This ‘Aint the First Time the
Rodeo Came to Town
The retail banking industry offers
great examples of innovative organizations in a mature, highly-regulated
industry traditionally known as stodgy and antiquated (characteristics similar
to energy utilities) that diligently carried out initiatives to re-image
themselves and increase the appeal to young talent. Not long ago, retail
banking’s attempts to recruit college graduates and young professionals stumbled
as the target audience often selected Wall Street’s investment banking fast-pace
and cash-cachet to start their careers. But forward-thinking utility leaders can
glean insight from retail banks that planned initiatives to successfully attract
a new generation of employees and customers.
A leading example of creating such
a rich environment is Umpqua Bank’s exceptional growth from a 40-person
community bank to a 128-branch entity with a strong western United States
presence. In his book, Leading for Growth: How Umpqua Bank Got Cool and Created
a Culture of Greatness, Raymond Davis (co-written by Alan Shrader) explains how
his creative leadership approach facilitated this success, including hiring a
top-of-the-line design firm to revamp the retail layout and modernize its
appeal. Employees are required to answer the phone with a cheery “World’s
Greatest Bank,” and between 8:45 a.m. and 9 a.m. every day, every employee at
every branch congregates for a “Motivational Moment.” A different employee leads
the “Motivational Moment” each day, and the meeting could consist of a funny
story, a quiz, a craft, or a companywide call with Davis. No matter the
activity, it is a creative method for everyone to start the day focused together
and kick it off on a positive note; an attractive element to Millennials who
seek culture-rich, highly collaborative work environments.
ING Direct provides another
account of re-vamping its environment to promote a fun, lively culture. The
Dutch-originated bank stays true to its roots with the use of orange as its main
color and has infused this electric color’s energy into its customer and
employee programs. One prime initiative of making its branches colorful is the
bright orange cafés in major cities across the nation where customers can sip
lattés, surf the Internet for free, and discover ways that ING can help them
Such approaches to challenge the
current thinking, find new ways to motivate employees, and attract customers
extend into credit unions and other industries. Boeing’s credit union, BECU,
incorporates “Neighborhood Financial Centers” into its branches to support its
mission in building stronger communities and enriching the lives of its
employees and members.
In the airlines industry (another
highly regulated industry like energy utilities and banking), Southwest Airlines
veered from the industry’s conventional attitude—extremely formal and serious.
Vibrantly transforming everything, from company colors to flight attendant
uniforms to television commercials, it created an environment where employees
have fun and truly enjoy themselves—essential requirements in attracting and
Third Pace—Keep Your Eye on the Prize and
Millennials’ multitasking nature
suggests they prefer involvement in multiple initiatives at once. They seek
dynamic roles—not consistent, ongoing, day-in, and day-out tasks. Of course, any
role within any organization requires repeated tasks, especially operational
versus project-based roles. With this in mind, utilities should stress any
project-based work that is included in entry-level positions. If the role’s
anticipated amount of project-based work is low, companies must highlight any
additional initiatives that provide participation opportunities for all
The last thing junior employees
want to do is sit in their isolated cubes all day staring at a computer screen.
With views shaped by the common goal achievement credo of group activities,
Millennials need assurance that their work environment is collaborative. Any
form of anticipated teamwork deserves recognition in recruitment messaging.
In addition, does the physical
workspace in the organization’s offices foster collaboration? Is the layout
conducive to groups of employees working in teams? Does the interior visually
appear as a time warp back into the 1970’s? Rearranging an office space often
requires a large investment, but the vintage adage of “a picture is worth a
thousand words” really hurts a utility that features offices that suggest
institutional attitudes exist.
Establishing a formal mentorship
program early on, scratches a Millennial’s itch to seize the day with guidance.
Management involvement in setting expectations and kicking the program off
increases the rate of success. As an added benefit to establishing a mentorship
program, these relationships serve as a medium to passing down critical industry
knowledge that is in risk of exiting the organization entirely upon senior
A twist on this idea is a reverse
mentorship program. Companies such as Procter & Gamble, Siemens, and General
Electric have established programs to facilitate both collaboration and
interaction amongst generations, and continue the technology learning process
for middle-aged executives. In addition to providing first-hand exposure to
company leaders, such an initiative gives Millennials an opportunity to refine
presentation and public speaking skills in front of an acclaimed audience.
Millennials have already
demonstrated their capability of reverse mentoring to company leaders, including
me, as they have formed relationships with a wide range of friends and
acquaintances through social networking tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn. At
first, I hesitated to participate, but now understand the business value these
devices offer and have learned to embrace them.
Energy utilities also need to
address Millennials’ dedication to preserving the environment, highlighting
investments in conservation technologies, and efforts to generate more energy
through renewable sources. Recent college graduates may at first dismiss the
notion of such companies contributing to a greener globe (and can you blame them
with the historic dependence upon fossil fuels?), but they can be convinced. If
they want to dedicate themselves to a job where they can contribute to the
environment, then they can become a utilities team member who builds business
cases to increase investment in renewable energy sources.
In addition, energy
efficiency/reliability/conservation initiatives provide an opportunity to
fulfill Millennials’ desire to work with cutting-edge technology. Perhaps no
other industry is experiencing the rate of technological advancement and
revolutionary change as energy utilities. Nationwide Smart Grid initiatives are
converting the traditional method of electricity transmission and distribution
that we have known since power was first discovered. Advanced, two-way,
broadband communications, and sensors technologies and the data and information
they create play an integral role in current and future solutions. The whole
face of energy is transforming—from automating the measuring, collecting, and
analyzing of energy usage to the demand response market shift that grants
innovative consumer purchasing power and a new level of energy ownership.
Organizations must ensure that Millennials know this is not their grandpas’
energy utilities industry.
Time for the showdown against the
competition. The unique, unwavering characteristics of baby boomer retirement
doom saviors have been discovered. Organizations in similarly mature, highly
regulated industries have employed techniques to battle the same image issue and
cater to Millennials’ professional desires. Practicing self-awareness to
evaluate one’s own organization uncovers current practices that recent college
graduates prefer as well as do not prefer.
Most importantly, after
considering all of these aspects, opportunities may be revealed where an
initiative here and there can drastically improve a utility’s youth appeal and
attract this much-needed talent, leading to the development of a rich, vibrant
environment that Millennials prefer in order to retain and develop the
utilities’ next generation of leaders.
Author's Bio: Kevin McCarty is cofounder and Executive Vice President of West Monroe Partners.