About one of every five employees of publicly owned utilities will be eligible to retire in the next five years, according to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. These longtime employees have worked hard for their utilities and accumulated large banks of knowledge. Before they retire, they are passing on their knowledge to new employees to keep the cogs in the utility’s operations turning.
Robert Pierce began as director of member services at Clearwater Power in Lewiston, Idaho, nearly 30 years ago. He has worked his way up to chief operating officer.
“When I came here, I was the youngest in the company,” he says. “Now, I’m getting to be one of the gray beards.”
For Robert, one of the biggest wells of institutional knowledge is his network. Through the years, he has worked in various departments within Clearwater Power. Through conferences and trainings, he has met utility employees from around the country. Whenever Clearwater has an issue, he can call upon his experience and the knowledge of others. Recently, he reached out to other utilities about safety issues with equipment for lineworkers, as well as the best way to put number labels on pad- mounted transformers.
“Over 29 years of hearing how different people do things with different utilities, you kind of have this bigger picture that you can draw on, rather than somebody who’s only worked here a short time,” he says. “They’ve really only seen how we do it here.”
Robert will be eligible for retirement in the next few years, as will a few others in leadership positions at Clearwater Power. The utility is implementing a succession plan to help share the institutional knowledge longtime employees have gathered.
Clearwater’s plan includes internal and external trainings—helping younger employees learn firsthand from co-workers and others in the industry—as well as long-term goal-setting to help determine what areas employees should try to learn more about. As employees retire, Clearwater plans to have multiple internal candidates ready to step into the role.
Robert says passing on the knowledge he has learned is critical.
“I get a lot of satisfaction out of hiring people that are smarter than I am and showing them everything that I know so that they can succeed,” he says. “If they can do it without me, then I’ve done my job.”
How Your Utility Works for You
From operating digger trucks to managing maps, every employee is an essential gear in the utility machine. Each duty has specialized knowledge utilities will have to replace as employees retire. Every utility is different, but these are common departments.
The facilities team oversees maintenance and construction of buildings and properties.
Lineworkers build, maintain and repair the power lines that deliver energy to homes and businesses. Operations also maintains meters and clears rights-of-way.
Safety departments handle trainings and develop procedures and protocols to ensure employee and member safety.
Staff maintain utility vehicles, generators, bucket trucks, digger trucks, SUVs and more.
Communications teams manage member magazines, social media, websites, promotional materials and other channels to keep customers informed on utility issues and programs.
The accounting team tracks financial matters, including billing, expenditures and financial forecasting.
Substation teams manage and maintain substations. They ensure systems and lines are powered properly to
accommodate power load.
IT manages internal technology infrastructure and ensures the security of the utility’s systems.
The administration team handles day-to-day business and human resources, overseeing utility management and handling hiring, payroll and benefits.
Member services help customers, whether it is opening an account, paying bills or requesting maintenance.