Manpower Report: Power Industry Faces Talent Shortage

A report released on May 5 by staffing firm Manpower suggests that utilities are under a “double squeeze”—a shortage of skilled workers at both the entry and senior level—caused by an aging workforce, advances in technology, and a breakdown in the educational system.

In its report, “Strategies to Fuel the Energy Workforce,” Manpower noted that 58% of the energy executives the company polled for its energy workforce survey said they struggle to find the talent they need and 74% believe the problem will worsen over the next five years. Job categories identified as being in greatest demand included field workers, skilled trades, and highly educated professionals.

The talent shortage may already be slowing growth and expansion. By some estimates, there will be 3 million energy sector jobs by 2020. In the utilities subsector—where half of the workforce is already over the age of 40—100,000 net new jobs are projected. Many of the positions will require tech-savvy candidates to keep pace with future developments.

Unfortunately for employers, today’s students are consistently underperforming in the fundamental skills of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Executives reported that, on average, no more than 45% of applicants are passing basic skilled-trade aptitude tests. Colleges and universities have developed programs to help (see “New Technology Is Key to Recruiting New Power Workforce” in the forthcoming June issue of POWER), but that is only scratching the surface of the need.

Increasing access to women, minorities, and veterans (watch for “Veterans Bring Needed Skills to the Utility Industry” also in the June issue of POWER and at powermag.com) is a high priority for many of the companies surveyed by Manpower. Although women and minorities are generally underrepresented in STEM-related professions, outreach to these groups is believed to have helped increase their numbers. Statistics are hard to come by however, because the programs frequently consist of informal support and internal networking groups where success is not always tracked.

If the “double squeeze” wasn’t challenging enough, screenings—including drug tests, driving record reviews, and background checks—present another sticky wicket. Manpower referenced a Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce study in which one in three members surveyed said that background checks and criminal records were an issue in hiring. One Manpower survey responder even estimated that half of all applicants for entry-level jobs at his agency were unqualified due to their inability to pass the screening process.

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)