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How technology can help attract – and retain – electrical utility and contractor workers

By Linda Schwefel
June 26, 2023

Since COVID, employers in just about every industry have been scrambling for workers. This is happening particularly in the trade fields as older workers retire in greater numbers. And while electrical utilities and contractors have not had quite as many issues attracting new workers as, say, the construction industry, they too are struggling to retain workers.

One industry expert last summer stated that at least 80 percent of energy employers are having trouble hiring qualified workers. In addition, while non-retirement attrition remains consistent at 15.4 percent, almost all of those leaving (64 percent) are workers with less than five years on the job.  Ignoring for the moment the cost of recruiting and hiring new employees, the turnover of new workers means that fewer workers last long enough to be considered experienced – bad news in an industry that is at once critical and dangerous.

How technology can help attract and retain electrical utility workers

An often-overlooked strategy to retain electric utility workers and contractor employees is technology, particularly in the form of field data collection software. Read on to learn more about how it can keep your employees content – and on the job.

The workday ends when you get into the truck

In the past, those performing electrical utility field tasks found their days to be long. After working for eight hours out in all kinds of weather, those using pen and paper to record the data collected had to either get back to the office or retreat to a home office with a laptop to enter all the notes, observations, and data collected by hand throughout the day.  Once the data was entered, the worker would use the data to create a report to send to the client or supervisor, painstakingly adding photos to attempt to annotate findings, or location information to pinpoint the site of observations.

Those using spreadsheets in the field didn’t fare much better – while the data was entered, it still was in an unfinished form that would require the manual creation of reports, along with the time-consuming tasks of annotating observations with photos and location data.

All this data entry and clerical work resulted in a workday that was not only physically demanding but also extraordinarily long. This could lead to worker dissatisfaction and burnout. To add insult to injury, contractors are often paid by the job, not the hours, so these additional hours can be uncompensated.

How technology can help retain electrical utility workers

With a field data collection platform, field teams can directly enter the information collected, share photos that are tagged with each record, and automatically collect geographic data, all from their mobile phones. Once the workday is done, all it takes is a couple of finger taps to create reports from your findings, and another click to share the reports you generate. This means once workers are done with the day in the field, they can just go home and relax. While being able to work a normal workday isn’t necessarily a huge selling point for any employer, requiring field teams to perform hours of clerical or administrative work after the field operations have ended is definitely a factor that will get people to quit. 

Know where you’re going – and what you’re doing

Starting a new job can be challenging, and it’s not uncommon for new employees to feel frustrated and uncertain about their assigned tasks, sometimes for days or even weeks. This feeling of uncertainty becomes even more pronounced for those working in the field, away from direct guidance from managers or mentors. Moreover, when jobs are scattered across remote areas with unreliable GPS coverage, it adds to the anxiety: constantly doubting whether you’re doing your job correctly or even in the right location can significantly impact job satisfaction.

Here again, field data collection software comes to the rescue. Using a platform such as Fulcrum, workers can download maps in advance if they’re going to places where cell coverage is iffy, so they’re able to make sure they’re in the right place no matter what. In addition, remote teams can share photos, data collected, or video with supervisors or work mentors to get assurance that they’re doing the job correctly – or get directions on what to do differently if they’re not.

In-app SOPs as a safety net

Working with electricity, especially in challenging weather conditions and remote locations, can create a dangerous situation that can leave newer workers feeling uneasy. Luckily, technology can come to the rescue in this scenario as well.

Data collection platforms such as Fulcrum provide workers with in-app standard operating procedures. This includes reference photos to answer questions and guide workers through tasks, lessening the risk of injury or worse. In addition, digital checklists can provide don’t-forget-a-step guidelines for PPE, safety precautions, and operational procedures to reduce the risk of problems.  Finally, using a digital field data collection app allows workers to instantly report a safety concern, document its exact location, and attach reference videos or photos for quick follow-up and remediation.

The takeaway

Using digital field operations software such as Fulcrum can have a profound impact on electrical utilities and contractor field teams.  It can help by reducing workday length, simplifying job functions, and enhancing safety. Employers are better able to attract – and retain – the skilled workers they need to get the job done.

Interested in finding out how Fulcrum can be your ally in keeping your skilled workers? Sign up for a no-obligation phone call to learn how to get started!