No one can dispute the fact that the composition of the utility workforce is in a state of flux. Baby Boomers are retiring at a rapid pace, and Millennials are entering the workforce with different skills and expectations. The problem for utilities is that these new entrants into the workforce do not seem to “fit in” particularly well with utility cultures and technology. One blaring example of this is that younger workers are experts at new / digital / smart technologies, but in the field these younger workers must continuously deal with something akin to analog technology that their grandfathers worked with.
In order to deal with this problem, The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has formed several partnerships with utilities to pilot innovative technologies. One pilot, in conjunction with Con Edison, aims to explore wearable technology as a possible solution to the techno-generational divide. Augmented or virtual reality devices are utilized to help field employees with tasks such as locating damaged buried transmission infrastructure, and even assisting in the repair by providing GIS data or remote human expertise. Another pilot, with Duke Energy, utilizes virtual menus in wearable glasses that enable employees to retrieve parts while managing inventory during repair activities, hands-free.
Based on these technological advancements, it certainly seems like emergency restoration is eventually going to get a whole lot easier for utility companies – no matter if it’s gas, electric or water. The challenge will be training employees to effectively use these emerging technologies like wearable technology and virtual reality devices. But as with everything related to emergency preparedness, this challenge can be overcome with regular emergency training, exercises and drills.