RECAP: Annual Workforce Development Summit Virtual Conference Draws Record Crowd

The live days of CEWD’s Annual Workforce Development Summit have come to a close with more than 250 professionals “attending.” Thanks to the strong program content and the ease of participating in virtual meetings, a record number of people participated in the Summit to learn from sessions in tracks including Managing Workforce Development and Workforce Planning;  Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Training and Skill Development for Our Future Workforce; Workforce Development Outside the HR Suite; and Staying One Step Ahead of the Changing Workplace Culture.

With all that was available, attendees could prioritize sessions of most importance to their business needs and enjoy access to all others through the end of January. (Those who did not participate in the Summit but would still like to can register here.)

Here are highlights from a few of the general sessions that were presented during the Summit.

The Future of Work

Brooke Weddle and Mengwei Luo of McKinsey and Company and Keith Hutchison of National Grid explored “The Future of Work in Utilities: From Board and C-Suite Expectations to Strategy Execution.” Hutchison offered perspectives based on conversations and actions within his company and the McKinsey representatives shared data points gleaned from a recent survey of 850 global executives, including a forecast suggesting that to reimagine the future of work, utilities need to take nine actions. They suggested, for example, to rethink ways of working, employers need to speed-up and delegate decision making, step-up execution excellence, and cultivate extraordinary partnerships; to reimagine structures, employers must flatten the structure, unleash nimble and empowered teams, and make a hybrid virtual model work; and their thoughts on reshaping talent included fielding tomorrow’s leaders today, learning how to learn and rethinking the role of the CEO and leaders.

Insight from Other Industry Sectors

One of the Summit’s most well attended sessions was “How Other Business Sectors Are Addressing Their Workforce Development Needs” that allowed energy professionals to peek beyond their normal circles of influence to see how others are tackling their workforce development challenges. Leaders from the Manufacturers Institute, Home Builders Institute, and the American Hotel and Lodging Association Foundation addressed the importance of storytelling and changing the narrative about industry careers, emphasizing the necessity of connecting with students and their influencers, including parents and educational advisors. The organizations represented by the presenters each spend millions of dollars annually to influence and interest current and future career seekers. They also narrated actions being taken to address skills gaps and efforts to connect with those in under-served communities, including opportunity youth.

Brian Gary of Entergy noted this was “the first Summit where the perspectives of other industries were presented with any level of detail.  While we differ in skill set needs, the need for career awareness is the common thread and leads me to push our efforts on awareness.”  “Gary continued, “in the long term, investment in career awareness is what’s going to help us staff the future organization. Traditional staffing methodologies are a thing of the past and it really is about selling what we have to offer.  The diverse perspectives validate our ongoing efforts around career awareness.”

Reinventing the Employee Experience

CEWD has been working with leaders from Accenture on strategies the industry can employ to reinvent the employee experience, an important retention step companies are exploring, considering 76% of utilities have reported they have been challenged in finding employees. Accenture reported on some of the take-aways in the finished report they will deliver, including the idea that companies can gain upwards of 5% revenue growth, compared to the anticipated 2020 average company decline of -4.7 percent, if they unlock their employees’ full potential. This model, called “net better off” covers six dimensions of the employee experience and accounts for 64% of work potential.

Seeing the Multi-Generational Workforce in New Ways

Another highlight of the Summit was a keynote session delivered by professional speaker, Jason Dorsey, a generational expert, on “Solving Generational Challenges to Drive Workplace Performance.” During the session, sponsored by the American Gas Association and the Distribution Contractors Association, Dorsey offered tremendous insights into why people of differing ages function and have the outlooks they do. For instance, in addressing young people’s natural connection with technology, he noted Generation Z doesn’t bring change, they bring what they know. He highlighted a company that invites employees to use the corporate app to request half of the compensation they have earned each day. He explained that the young people who work there will never easily accept traditional bi-monthly pay periods; they will have only known apps for daily compensation.

This session was among the favorites of Jamal J. Jessie, a workforce development manager at Southern. Jessie noted his biggest “take-away from that session was how I need to engage differently with Gen Z,” complimenting Jason on unpacking tools and data to help bridge the gaps amongst the generations.

If the adage that the value of any conference can be best measured in its take-aways and ideas that can be turned into action is true, Lauren Gandy of Associated Electric Cooperative in Springfield, MO will be quite busy as she shared that she took 29 pages of notes during the live days alone!

Kelley Reese, a talent acquisition specialist at Michels was grateful the virtual platform provided the ability to still meet to discuss the industry’s unique workforce needs.  Reese noted that “despite current circumstances, it is validating to hear so many partners share some of the same concerns for talent attraction, development and retention. It serves as a reminder to not take our eyes off of our overall goals in this effort but to adjust them in light of the pandemic and keep the industry moving forward as the need to serve our communities endures.”

CEWD is grateful to the speakers and sponsors who enabled the Summit’s offerings and to the Distribution Contractors Association for being part of this year’s program.