Changing nature of work for Canadian utilities

Preparing the utilities workforce to participate in the digital world

A new world of work

Jobs are changing fast, and every industry is feeling the impact of technology and its effect on the future of work. The experience is particularly challenging in the electricity sector, where the industry is going through a profound transition driven by decentralization, decarbonization and digitization. And while innovation can bring tremendous opportunities to Canadian utilities, it also brings challenges around upskilling and developing a workforce that can adapt to a rapidly changing environment.

The advancement in technology will change the size and composition of the sector’s labour force, so it’s important to make sure we’re adequately prepared. In partnership with the Electricity Human Resources Canada (EHRC), we undertook research to understand how Canada’s electricity sector is preparing to participate in the digital world.

Changing expectations, changing jobs

The industries market and business models are changing as prices for solar power, battery storage, wind power, electric vehicles, smart buildings and other technologies become more competitive. What’s more, consumer attitudes are evolving, accelerating the pace of change in the electricity sector. Utilities with a solid understanding of their customers’ needs—and delivering an outstanding experience across all points of contact—stand to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.

In a recent survey of 140 industry participants conducted by EHRC, survey respondents assessed how roles will change, generating insights around how existing jobs may change, how new jobs may emerge and how to develop the talent they need:

Engineers

Transformation and new occupations are expected. In fact, 87% of respondents believed engineering occupations will be changed by emerging technologies, with many (44%) expecting these jobs to be disrupted or transformed.

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Renewables and ICT

Most stakeholders agree new technologies will drive the demand for new occupations within information and communications technology (ICT) (49%) and renewable energy (60%) jobs.

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New occupations

New jobs will be created, including roles in digital, change management and infrastructure designers. Two-thirds believe new roles will require strong digital, statistical and programming skills, specifically data analysts (25%), artificial intelligence specialists (16%), cyber and network security experts (13%) and robotics and automation specialists (9%).

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New world. New skills.

Upskilling the workforce is a challenge for utilities, and the report highlights how most workers in the sector have only “slightly” or “somewhat” developed digital skills, with just 18% of stakeholders saying workers’ skills were developed for sector-specific technologies like smart grids. While specialization is important, organizations are also looking for workers with the right mix of skills.

Survey respondents ranked blended skills as the most important for the future of work in the sector. Based on the analysis of market trends, employer expectations and technological changes, the report identified three types of skills the industry needs:

  1. Specialized technical and digital skills: As digital technologies reduce the overall number of workers needed in certain occupations, the demand for specialized skills is expected to increase. Specialized technical and digital skills include strong digital and data-analysis skills with an ability to “identify, analyze, develop, support, operate and complement digitalized technologies.”
  2. Business skills: Personal, interpersonal and professional skills help people interact effectively with colleagues and clients. These include communication and presentation skills; interpersonal skills like leadership, management, and teamwork; and thinking skills such as creativity, problem solving and critical thinking.
  3. Blended skills: Increasingly, employers are looking for people who have a combination of skills—and especially those who can integrate digital skills with traditional technical knowledge.

Preparing utilities for the digital world

The report found very few employers (only 4%) have a training plan in place to fully address their workers’ skills needs related to technological change—and nearly one-third have no training plan at all. Whether their jobs will be displaced or transformed by technology, workers need upskilling to adapt to new requirements. Companies cannot afford to send their entire workforce back to school, so programs will need to be offered through programs supported by stronger partnerships among postsecondary schools, training institutions and workplaces.

Among the organizations that do provide training programs to their workers, less than one-third (28%) offer programs that target digital skills. Nearly half of programs (47%) focus on technical skills development for specific occupations, and just under half have programs that seek to enhance critical business skills. Most organizations (66%) have training plans that fall short of responding to the expected technological changes in their workplace.

Who’s responsible? The industry is split

Canada’s tight labour market may not provide the skilled talent organizations need, but there’s disagreement among respondents about a companies’ responsibilities for upskilling their workforces. Respondents tend to describe the implications of the sector’s transformation in one of two possible scenarios:

  • Rapid transformation: Stakeholders expect change to happen quickly. Rather than retrain their workforce, they expect their workforce to transform through new hires. Responding to these changes will require replacing workers with new hires and seeking out workers with the required skills for new occupations.

  • Progressive transformation: Other stakeholders expect change to happen progressively and believe training their existing workers with future skills is not only their responsibility but also good business sense. Upskilling existing workers will be a dual responsibility, shared by workers and organizations.

We believe progressive transformation is critical, as it’s difficult to hire yourself out of this problem. Employers, educators, governments and unions all have a role to play in making sure workers have the skills they need to succeed. As emerging technologies become commonplace, academic and training curricula will need to be adjusted accordingly. Sector stakeholders should strive to develop a learning ecosystem founded on strong partnerships and common objectives.

Taking action

The rapid digitization and adoption of innovative new technologies will offer the electricity sector a number of opportunities to improve its efficiency and its workers’ productivity

1. Develop a workforce management and upskilling plan

Identify the occupations needed in the future and articulate a recruitment strategy. Develop a training plan and upskill workers. Organizations with a plan will be well placed to manage the sector’s digital transformation.

 

2. Develop an industry-wide learning ecosystem 

Teach skills that are relevant to a digital workplace and responsive to the changing needs of the sector. Offer opportunities for work-integrated learning.

3. Focus on change and innovation

Adopt a culture of change, and make learning and innovation a part of workplace culture. Survey respondents commented on the need for workplaces to transform their culture and processes toward more flexible, adaptable and change-focused approaches.

Contact us

James Strapp

James Strapp

Partner, Power & utilities, PwC Canada

Tel: +1 416 863 1133

Kathy Parker

Kathy Parker

Partner, People and Organisation, PwC Canada

Tel: +1 416 687 9014

Matt Pittman

Matt Pittman

Partner, HR Transformation, PwC Canada

Tel: +1 416 815 5008

Helen Bremner

Helen Bremner

Partner, National Industry Leader, Power and Utilities, PwC Canada

Tel: +1 403 509 7404

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