How Utility Leaders are Dealing with the Aging Workforce and Infrastructure Challenges


Learn how these critical challenges are threatening service reliability in the utilities industry and how AR-enabled technologies can help solve them

– By Gary McAuliffe, VP of Global Utilities, Librestream

Gary McAuliffe is Librestream’s VP of Global Utilities. He works with electric, gas, and water utilities to deploy AR solutions to reduce operating costs, improve system uptime, and enhance worker safety.

It’s a well-known fact that the utilities infrastructure is well beyond its expected lifecycle. A majority of the current infrastructure, be it gas, electric, or water, is over 25 years old and older. Regular maintenance and upkeep of aging assets is essential to ensure longevity and avoid service interruptions. While the industry’s aging infrastructure is a major cause for concern, a more pressing “aging” concern may be the workforce. The utility sector will lose 50% of its workers to retirement over the next decade. This retirement wave will impact utilities regardless of their size or revenue and the loss includes critical field workers, engineers, and skilled labor.

Organizations are at risk of losing the incredible amount of knowledge their retiring workforce has amassed through decades of on-the-job learning. As a result, leading utilities executives are tasked with finding ways to preserve this critical knowledge, seamlessly transition and train new workers into front-line roles, and find efficiencies within their processes. This is where digital transformation technology solutions like the Onsight augmented reality (AR) platform can help.

Onsight can help capture and share data, knowledge, and expertise at the point-of-service on a centralized knowledge network that can be accessed anywhere and on any device. Field teams can connect with subject matter experts, engineers, and control centers, as well as access previous inspection records, manuals, and other relevant content to identify and resolve issues quickly.

You may be wondering, how does that really help with ensuring I preserve knowledge from my retiring workforce. Let’s say your most experienced worker, Bill, is retiring in the next five years. Bill knows the ins and outs of all your assets, what to do when something isn’t working and who to call for help if he can’t fix something himself. Because Bill has been doing his job for so long, he doesn’t need a documented workflow or significant training to quickly process engineer notes, drawings, and daily work logs.

This is simply not the case for the worker replacing Bill. They wouldn’t have the institutional and operational knowledge that Bill does. AR-enabled remote collaboration solutions offer the ability to capture this critical knowledge either in the form of live video calls, recordings, images, digital work instructions or by tagging relevant data and analyzing unstructured data through artificial intelligence and machine learning. Once captured accurately, this knowledge can be shared across the organization through a centralized knowledge network to ensure current, and new workers have Bill’s and other workers’ expertise to rely on long after the tenured employees have left the company.

In addition to helping field workers perform their jobs more efficiently, a robust knowledge network can enhance training and onboarding for new workers, improve safety metrics and reduce O&M. A side benefit of reducing O&M, is allowing utilities to grow their capital investments. Yes! They can now invest those O&M savings into the critical infrastructure investments detailed at the beginning of this post. Both “aging” challenges can be addressed with one technology investment.

If you are considering deploying a workforce transformation tool like Onsight, you may find this report from Gartner® helpful. It offers insights into the six key technology areas that utilities should focus on.

If you have any questions or would like a demo of Onsight, please reach out to our team!

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