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Building the Digital Utility of the Future: Treating Contractors Like Your Own

By November 3, 2022Blog

Jason Rhoades headshotAs electric utility leaders think about the strategies needed to navigate the workforce mobility challenges of today and tomorrow, multiple business priorities are top of mind, including a big crew change that leaves teams understaffed and reliant on contractors, increasing storm events, and an urgent need to enhance situational awareness. Jason Rhoades, Customer Success Manager at ARCOS, brings his voice of authority to our blog where his 23 years of experience on the front lines of the electric industry make him uniquely qualified to provide pragmatic insights, from adoption of new technology and unleashing crew performance to managing a hybrid workforce and meeting even the darkest sky work head on with the digital utility of the future.

When you’re an insider and know the electric utility industry like I do, some aspects of the business are so obvious that we don’t always give them the attention deserved. One of those things is the fact that most utilities don’t have the numbers of full-time employees (FTE) that they once had 20 or 30 years ago. In my last blog, I explained why this is with the ongoing “big crew change” that is seeing a generation of linemen retire and putting fewer junior linemen out in the field. We have more work than ever though, so the way that electric utilities get the work done is by hiring a native contractor workforce to fill the shoes in their service areas. With between 40% to 60% contractors, it goes without saying that utilities, electric cooperatives, and municipal providers can only grow and meet increasing demand head on with a hybrid workforce.

In a blog series aiming to show what the digital utility of the future looks like, contractors are even more important to bring into the conversation than FTEs and the truth is they’ve been left behind in terms of innovation, my topic for today. Why?

The business processes, information systems, and software tools that a lot of electric utilities have today were built years ago when managing a much larger full-time workforce was the priority. Such legacy mobile workforce management technology didn’t take today’s large contract workforce into account. As a result, native contractors still struggle with paperwork orders, manual time tracking, and access to digital systems – like outage management and GIS – that their FTE counterparts benefit from.

When we talk about “digital transformation” in the power transmission and distribution world, we’re really just talking about internal innovation projects that all too often cut contractors out of the loop. But if the goal is a digital utility of the future, then the vast majority of the technology focus should be squarely aimed at our brothers and sisters who complete, at times, just as much work as FTEs do. Companies who can do that set their organization up to accelerate digital transformation and reap bigger rewards in terms of safety, reliability, cost containment, and customer satisfaction much sooner.

Taking care of contractors and treating them like your own by empowering them with modern mobile workforce management technology isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the only way to compete and attract the talented contractors electric utilities rely on. Contractors are a limited resource in a market where they are increasingly needed. Their job satisfaction matters just as much as an FTE. They want to get paid just as fast, but paper-based processes and invoicing procedures add substantial delay. By going to all digital time tracking, electric utilities become more attractive, uplifting the job satisfaction, safety, and culture of a contract workforce.

Adding even more complexity to treating contractors like your own are large-scale power restoration projects where mutual assistance crews are called in from all over the country. Think about the recent Hurricane Ian that drew thousands of linemen to Florida, bolstering local utilities with the large non-native contract workforce they needed to respond, repair, and restore. Managing these types of events is where seamlessly integrating contractors with outage management, GIS, and time tracking can be a force multiplier that accelerates restoration and provides everyone involved with a single pane of glass and crystal-clear situational awareness of people, assets, and work. Helping electric utilities, cooperatives, and Munis achieve this level of performance are mobile workforce management platforms like ARCOS Mobile Workbench that provide a simple and seamless way to manage blue sky and gray sky work.

In my fifth and final blog, I’m going to dive deeper into the power of mobile workforce management technology in restoring power and how Mobile Workbench cut 2 days and millions in restoration costs during Hurricane Ian. Please reach out with any questions in the meantime.

Did you enjoy Jason’s blog? Check out his previous post: Building the Digital Utility of the Future: Unleashing Workforce Potential

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