‘As I Said to the Board’ - Human Capital in the Boardroom - Energy & Utility Skills

‘As I Said to the Board’ – Human Capital in the Boardroom

Energy & Utility Skills brought together utility HR Directors, diversity & inclusion leaders and academics to debate building the sectors human capital to power the utilities of the future, and directly inform the impending 2020 – 2025 Workforce Renewal & Skills Strategy.

‘As I Said to the Board’ - Human Capital in the Boardroom

Energy & Utility Skills brought together utility HR Directors, diversity & inclusion leaders and academics to debate building the sectors human capital to power the utilities of the future, and directly inform the impending 2020 – 2025 Workforce Renewal & Skills Strategy for the gas, power, water and waste management sector.

Through a series of new strategic roundtables entitled ‘As I Said to the Board’, the events form a partnership with leading sector news team Utility Week and senior recruitment specialists Network HR. A full report will appear in Utility Week shortly.

As the utility HR Directors gathered, No.10 Downing Street had announced it would prioritise infrastructure as an engine for the UK economy, and re-stated its faith in HS2. Both ambitions would rely totally on having the right human capital – the right quantity and quality of a safe, skilled and productive workforce. The latest Office of National Statistics had also just updated the nation with the latest UK labour market statistics, reporting the tightest human capital situation since records began.  

National Infrastructure Commission Chair, Sir John Armitt, had already effectively set the scene for the debate, advising in his speech to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Infrastructure that “At present, there is an insufficiently joined-up approach to infrastructure skills development in the UK, with a wide range of responsible bodies operating across different geographic and political boundaries. The human capital aspects of the National Infrastructure Plan for Skills need to be refreshed to help ensure our pipeline of future workers is adequate for the challenges ahead.”

Energy & Utility Skills explained that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had previously recognised the UK labour market situation, requiring the Office of National Statistics (ONS) to develop a more sophisticated measure of human capital in its efforts to grow the UK economy. In late 2019, the ONS had launched its initial consultation, advising it would be the first of several phases in what will now be a wider review of measuring, understanding and building human capital. The results are still pending.

The event discussed how the HR leaders can secure a stronger voice in their boardroom, to equal that of those talking for more established financial and natural capital. Two economic regulators, Ofwat and Ofgem, were recognised by the guests for their part in assisting that debate, by embedding workforce resilience as a requirement within the PR19 and RIIO-2 price setting methodologies. This in itself brings a new focus to the subject and how companies should invest in it.

The discussions heard from energy and water company leaders that were already feeling they had an audience in the boardroom that was listening acutely. The enabler had been empirical evidence to show that investment in people delivered powerful commercial and community outcomes. Companies such as SSE had broken new ground by creating two studies ‘Valuable People; Valuing SSE’s Human Capital’ and ‘Valuing the Difference; It pays to be inclusive’ which price the value of human capital investment and set out the business case for building a diverse workforce.

Severn Trent Water had already seen clearly where workforce value was integral to business success, and were in the process of creating one of the first new physical training academies in the sector for many years. Welsh Water and Kier Utilities explained their focus on building sustainability in to their respective infrastructure strategies, while the Ignition Brewery, Mott MacDonald, Odyssey Infrastructure, the Royal Academy for Engineering and Aston University set out how building genuinely inclusive organisations enables the creation of diverse workforces that are proven to think more effectively, tackle problems in more efficient ways and directly outperform those companies with minimal diversity. The commercial business case alone is seen as beyond doubt.

Energy & Utility Skills Chief Executive Nick Ellins advised: “These roundtables, through our partnership with Network HR and Utility Week, are creating fresh and more strategic dialogue for the undisputed business and social value that investing in human capital can bring to the whole UK environmental infrastructure sector. The discussions directly feed in to the Utility Week ‘Utility of the Future’ initiative and inform the utility sectors new workforce strategy that is being completed by Energy & Utility Skills with employers over the next couple of months and will be launched in June 2020.”

“The whole UK utility sector have so much to be proud of already in valuing and building human capital that is ready for a fast changing future. Even though there is a long road of effort ahead, their work together through pure voluntary partnership has already left many formal industry ‘Sector Deals’ a long way behind. One such example is the Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership Inclusion Commitment, which already has 42 major utility businesses signed up to one inclusion approach, and all committed to being audited on their progress through the Royal Academy of Engineering audit mechanism. If the whole UK utility sector genuinely works as one, it will succeed.”

“Another is the major social media initiative entitled ‘Energy & Utilities Jobs’. It is fuelled by case studies from across policy makers, regulators, regulated companies and their supply chain partners that compel new generations of diverse talent to look at a career in the utility world through the lens of the personal value and societal contribution it can bring. The collaboration has reached millions, is attracting high levels of females and converts interest to business value, posting around 500 jobs a month. These companies that have tried the art of the possible to pioneer this and succeeded, deserve great recognition for acting as one and for their innovation”.   

Linda Williams, HR Director of Welsh Water and Board member of the Institute of Water was one of the leaders present at the roundtable. She advised: “When we all find it difficult to strike the right balance between demanding work life and spending time with the family, we often decline invitations to attend conferences, to speak at events, or attend networking sessions. But if you’re anything like me, when you do make the time to attend them, it can be time well spent.  And this session was no exception – it was a great opportunity to meet peers from the wider utility sector to share best practice on enhancing social mobility in our communities and diversity within our businesses.  There was a particularly good discussion on how to define the metrics of human capital (to inform Board decisions) in light of ONS being tasked by UK government to introduce new metrics.

This is a subject matter of great importance to us at Welsh Water as we operate in some of the most deprived communities in the UK. We have an incredible workforce, but in order to ensure we continue to have the skills and diversity of thought that we need to maintain our high standards, we need to attract and develop people from all the communities we serve

By identifying and improving the attraction of diverse employees and key under-represented groups we aim to create a workforce that truly represents our communities. We have worked with representative organisations to provide training and tools to review the text we advertise jobs with and utilise their jobs boards with links to related talent pools. We have worked with a range of organisation to help improve the way we attract and communicate with potential employees – from the Business Disability to Remploy, from the Prince’s Trust (and their Get Into… programme in particular) to the Muslim Council for Wales; and from to Pride Cymru to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. We continue to expand our network to improve our reach and attract people to join us.

We have also launched our “Water Resilient Communities” programme where we focusing the entire spectrum of work undertaken by Welsh Water in five specific towns and villages in order to leverage the power of our presence in the area and drive long-lasting change – including the targeted recruitment of individuals from these areas.

As a company, we’re committed to paying the Living Wage set by the Living Wage Foundation; promoting Welsh Water as a fair employer through the Welsh charity Chwarae Teg; and have improved the targeting of our apprentice recruitment campaigns resulting in an increase in  female applications.

We are fortunate to have a board that support investment of our people despite efficiency challenges and demonstrably understand it’s a long-term investment.

There is always more that can be done and lessons to be learned from others – that’s why such events as this one are so beneficial.”


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