Developing a Smart Work Force

By Larry Womack, Oncor

As the largest transmission and distribution utility in Texas, Oncor serves more than 3.3 million points of delivery via more than 121,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines, and does so employing more than 3,400 employees. From a work force planning perspective, Oncor works to attract, hire and retain the most qualified work force it can with the end game always being improved business performance in an increasingly competitive environment.

Historically, Oncor and our predecessor companies have believed in “growing our own.” We have traditionally hired at the entry level for craft and technical roles, engineers, accountants, customer facing roles and corporate center general and administrative roles such as procurement, human resources and information technology. Sourcing for jobs like meter readers, field services, linemen and technicians was done exclusively from local labor markets in our service area, using our internal job posting system.

For our campus recruiting efforts, we focused mainly on electrical engineers, accounting majors, management information systems and an occasional marketing or management major. We cultivated relationships with a small number of colleges and universities to meet our needs.

Consistent with many other utilities, Oncor recognized a significant aging work force concern in the last decade. At that time, the average employee age was over 40 and the average tenure was more than 20 years. 35 percent of the work force was eligible to retire, with projections increasing to 40-45 percent within 3-5 years. A significant mass exodus of tenured, knowledgeable employees would have serious negative impacts on Oncor’s operational performance and overall success.

Through a series of fortunate internal and external factors, a mass exodus never materialized. What did occur, however, was Oncor’s response to a timely wakeup call for our business. Three emerging trends were in front of us: new grid technology was coming, advanced meters were in development and deployment and renewable energy sources were booming throughout Texas. As a leading-edge business, Oncor needed to figure out how to best manage and maximize each of these emerging trends.

The response was a realization that we had to raise the bar. We needed to build a better bench of talent throughout the organization as well as further develop our existing talent.

To build that better bench, Oncor needed to re-focus on the basics of recruiting as well as adopt new approaches. The basics included remembering that effective recruiting really boils down to improving business performance. Since it is employees who ultimately make any business successful, recruiting and subsequent staffing is among our managers’ most important responsibilities. We also had to reinforce that work force planning, job design and hiring processes are all strategic, fact based efforts which drive business outcomes.

The new approaches to recruiting included embedding an understanding within operational leadership that traditional, time honored concepts had to change as the complexity of the utility technology base evolves. For example, candidates strong in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) were historically chosen first. We understand today that STEM is the ticket to the dance, the minimum requirement. Oncor is now looking for employees who can communicate and possess relationship skills in addition to displaying the technical savvy required. We are also looking for a cultural fit into Oncor. We will hire for fit into Oncor and teach the additional skills and abilities to succeed.

We reinforced that the time that managers spend hiring the right candidates the right way is nothing compared to the time that is required in dealing with the wrong hires.

Although we still utilize locally based sources for entry level craft talent, Oncor has developed partnerships with lineman colleges and lineman certification programs in or near our service area to source this talent. For the technician talent pool, we have reached out to a large network of 2-year and 4-year colleges and universities near us. We use the school’s existing curriculum/degree plans in power distribution, electronics, electrical technology and other disciplines, and then modify our in-house training to further build on that educational framework.

Oncor has also reached out to Norfolk Naval Air Station, the Naval Submarine Base in Kings Bay, Georgia, and the Joint Reserve Base in Ft. Worth, Texas, as “veteran” recruiting sources. The nuclear trained electricians, electronics technicians and SEABEES from these programs have transferrable skills that fill a need for Oncor.

In the entry level engineering and facilities design space, Oncor moved to a robust internship program as the primary sourcing outlet for this talent. Oncor employed more than 80 interns in 2015. We will make offers to 25-30 graduating engineers/designers each year. The “take rate” on offers to interns is approximately 80 percent and the 2-year retention rate is more than 90 percent. The move toward the internship program was a direct response to both the aging work force issue and the desire to build a better bench in the enterprise.

Finally, to further develop our existing talent, Oncor implemented five distinct employee development and leadership programs to both train and retain employees for the 21st century business environment. A very unique aspect of these programs is that Oncor leadership serves as steering committee members, mentors and instructors in the programs. Oncor leaders are growing Oncor leaders.

The New Engineer Development Program is targeted toward degreed engineers from hire through the first three to four years of employment. The primary focus areas include personal development, technical development and business development. New engineers are all enrolled in the program and assigned a mentor.

The APEX Program is targeted toward high performing; non-supervisory employees who want to develop leadership skills and grow their career. Group projects, team activities problem solving and leadership development exercises are highlighted in this program.

The Horizons Program focuses on high performing employees in technical job families who may desire to grow into a lead or supervisory role. Participants increase their overall knowledge of Oncor while enhancing their leadership and communications skills.

The Leadership Development Program consists of existing first-line supervisors and managers as well as leading individual contributors and subject matter experts. The program’s focus is on enhancing leadership skills while broadening overall Oncor knowledge. The ultimate goal is to develop participants for possible moves into progressively larger and more challenging roles.

The Vantage Point Program targets existing managers and directors. Vantage Point enhances overall Oncor knowledge, provides peer network development and promotes greater self-awareness. There is emphasis on project management and developing strategic thinking to elevate personal and team performance.

Oncor has long been positioned to recognize emerging trends in the industry and proactively plan and implement processes to keep it at the forefront of technology and performance. The efforts undertaken to develop a smart work force through internal and external recruiting and employee and leadership development programs help ensure a diverse candidate pool of qualified individuals to meet our ever growing needs.


Larry Womack is director of HR Operations with Oncor in Dallas. Reach him at lwomack1@oncor.com.

 

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