This month's question: What workforce challenges are you facing, and how are you addressing them?

Answer: I believe Wells Rural Electric’s challenge is the same as many other cooperatives, which is attraction and retention of qualified, talented employees. Finding qualified employees is difficult for all companies, but our rural locations make this challenge even more difficult. In our case, we are not only rural, but we can be considered remote. This detail was made very clear to us during a national search for a director of Operations and Engineering. The search produced two very qualified individuals, but in the end, after visits to the cooperative, we ended up with a dry hole; 180 miles to the closest large city was too much to overcome. As with all companies, there are three methods of acquiring talent: buy, rent or develop. Our remote location means the rent and develop options are our most viable. We have concentrated on recruiting and hiring the best people in our area, who are not averse to our remoteness. In addition to training, we contract some very good consultants, and part of their responsibilities are to train and develop our local talent. This is a long-term strategy, and development takes time. But we have added several new employees, which has made a significant contribution to the cooperative, and they continue to grow through this focused training approach. We see some significant improvement in retention too, because they are already part of our cooperative communities.

Answer: The “Great Resignation" has hit the electric utility industry hard since the pandemic began, with industry turnover numbers as high as 45%. At Roanoke Electric Cooperative/Roanoke Connect Holdings, we are flipping the switch and connecting staff to purpose. Until employees understand their purpose, belonging, engagement, retention and recruitment will be sharply impacted. A recent Harvard Business Review study found nearly 71% of executives think employee engagement is critical to organizational success, but only 24% believe their employees are adequately engaged. At REC/RCH, we collectively facilitate valuable ways to close the engagement gap. Our goal is to ensure that employees understand that what they do matters and, ultimately, how it impacts the entire organization. A few ways we do this include: 1) Roanoke101, a class for new hires that connects their purpose from day one. 2) Ongoing conversations with managers and employees to connect purpose and impact to their work. 3) ECIP (Employee Community Investment Program); 94% of employees want to utilize their skills to benefit a cause, so we offer eight hours annually for approved social responsibility. 4) Our Realigning Our Culture Committee ensures that we hear employees' voices and positively impact our culture. We have found that employees feel passionate, innovative and committed when they have a sense of purpose at work. This also leads to more delighted, loyal and satisfied member-owners.

Answer: Maintaining a highly skilled and engaged workforce is Berkeley Electric Cooperative’s biggest challenge because of our growth rate, retiree turnover and post-COVID-19 work environment. Our employees are stretched, balancing new construction (about 7,000 meters each year) and maintenance. The retiree tide of the Baby Boomers is starting to recede, but we’ve lost much industry and institutional knowledge. The tight labor market and post-COVID demands for more flexible work agreements has made it more difficult to fill vacancies. To increase the pool of diverse, qualified applicants, we reach out via social media, targeted job boards and work groups, as well as increased efforts in schools and community associations. We survey employees to improve their work experience. Small, regular meetings of work groups with the CEO have been beneficial, and executive staff will start meeting with employees in 2023. To assist with work/life balance, we have instituted over the past six months flexible work hours and changed our paid time off policies. We respond to specific training needs and tailor career development plans for employees interested in vertical or horizontal growth within the cooperative. Cross training, job shadowing and succession planning utilizing depth charts also identifies talent as well as training needs. Building better relationships will assist with recruiting and retaining the best workforce Berkeley Electric Cooperative can have to serve our members and be an employer of choice!

Answer: Since the pandemic began, one of the biggest workforce challenges Chugach Electric has encountered is staffing shortage. While turnover rates remain steady, normal retirements are taking place. Historically, external positions were quick to fill. Today, fewer candidates are applying, leaving vacancies unfilled longer. We have expanded our outreach and are building new relationships to attract candidates, but this is more of a long-term strategy versus the change we need now. At the same time, employees continue to look for opportunities to grow and advance within the organization. We have always been keenly focused on internal talent. However, we needed to take a deeper dive into how to best keep and support workforce planning from within. Succession planning provided an opportunity to engage employees at all levels of the organization in a discussion about the future. Aside from how to prepare for future vacancies through succession planning, we learned so much more. Employees shared what they are looking for in the future, the importance of flexibility and how to support their growth. Many of these themes cross over into potential recruiting strategies and how to appeal to employees in the future. While engaging in succession planning did not solve our outside recruitment challenges overnight, it has provided the opportunity to engage in a meaningful conversation about the future with employees. What we learned will help us continue to engage and support employees and attract future talent.