Utility Retirees: In the Nick of Time

As we head into peak storm season for many companies, this is a great time to think about how you might be able to supplement your day to day resources with an often overlooked pool of experienced resources – your recent utility retirees!

Retirees are resources many companies already take advantage of (maybe not the best choice of words). Utility retirees already know your company, the service territory, the key players. Many times these are the professional staff resources who were doing the jobs that you are currently doing. They have a wealth of institutional knowledge to draw upon.

Of course, this resource pool may come with a number of challenges if you’re not careful. You can’t just give them a call out of the blue and expect them to enthusiastically respond. This is a relationship you need to cultivate and nurture, just like any good partnership.

Plus, there are many factors that will determine if a retiree will even be interested in helping you out. Was the decision to retire their own, or was it related to a company downsizing? What was their performance like when they were with the company? (You may not want them back.) Do they have plans to travel?

We don’t want to needlessly complicate an apparently easy fix, but there are a lot of decisions you need to make internally before you start your outreach process. So we have a few suggestions for how to develop and maintain this type of program based on our experiences with other utility companies around the country.

First, inventory the type of skill sets you normally need, or at least define your objectives. Do you need engineers or former line personnel who are familiar with your system? Or do you need extra call takers for the police and fire lines? Do you need field resources to stand by at downed wires? Or do you need logistical support personnel for your staging area operations?

Next, identify your pool of potential resources – review your recent retiree lists, talk to department managers about possible candidates.

Now you’ll have a ton of decisions to make before you start contacting your target list. (Warning: this is where many companies get tangled up, avoid decisions, fail to institutionalize the process, or generally screw things up altogether. Ignore at your own risk).

Decisions to be made prior to contacting potential candidates (aka: Write the Contract):

  • How will you contact your retirees? How much time do they have to respond?
  • How many times can they refuse an assignment before being removed from list?
  • Will the company provide transportation in the event of inclement weather?
  • Will the company provide ID cards? Will they be allowed to travel in the event of a travel ban (i.e. essential employee status)?
  • How often will you check-in with them for their schedule?
  • Will they need to register with an employment agency in advance? Will you subcontract them through someone else?
  • How often will training be conducted? Will they get paid to attend training?
  • What equipment will they be required to have? (desk top computer, laptop, cell phone, etc.) What equipment, if any, will the company provide?
  • What is the expected length of a shift?

Once you’ve figured out the basics, define what will happen once they agree to help out. What type of activation and communications process will you use? What level of authority and autonomy will they have in their assigned role?

Don’t forget to compile assignment location specifics – things like the address, a set of directions, maps, who is the primary contact there, is there anything tricky about gaining access to the location (security), etc.

Make sure to develop a training program along with the associated reference materials. And when you conduct the training sessions, be sure to review your expectations in detail.

Keeping a well-prepared emergency force of utility retirees handy doesn’t happen without effort. But it might be well worth the extra work and preparation. Because when the big storm hits, you could have a plug-and-play auxiliary workforce at your disposal. And that could make a big difference in restoration time, money and public opinion.

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