Public Utilities
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Public Utilities

Management Challenges for the 21st Century

David E. McNabb

An introduction to the current issues and challenges facing managers and administrators in the investor and publicly owned utility industry, this engaging volume addresses management concerns in three sectors of the utility industry: electric power, natural gas, and water and wastewater systems. Beginning with a brief overview of the historical development of the industry, the author looks at policy issues and discusses management ethics. He then examines a number of the major challenges in these organizational functions: management and leadership, planning, marketing, accounting and finance, information technology, governance, and human resources. In the final section of the volume he looks at issues specific to each of the three industry sectors.
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Chapter 11: Challenges in Managing Utility Human Resources

David E. McNabb


A number of external forces are changing the shape of the public utility workforce. This, in turn, is presenting a number of important challenges to the practice of human resources (HR) management. The fundamental problem of simply finding enough workers with the necessary skills to replace the many aging ‘baby boom’ workers now entering retirement is certainly on the minds of most utility managers. There is no doubt that the United States workforce is changing from a majority of white males to a majority of minority males and white females. One utility industry observer has referred to this trend as the ‘biggest mega trend’ in the utility industry, and a time when utilities will soon be unable to acquire workers with the technical skills needed just to maintain the technology that has already been installed (Manning 2003). The nature of the industry itself adds to the difficulty of identifying and employing the best and the brightest of today’s college and university graduates. Deregulation, reorganization, privatization, bankruptcy, and system failure are some operational forces affecting the industry that bring prospective employees to question whether they should commit to a utility career. In addition, many utilities find themselves forced to deal with infrastructure that is aging and, in some cases, crumbling. Other forces that are re-shaping the industry include federal mandates to make expensive investments in environmental protection. Scandal and unethical behavior are additional themes seen today in many descriptions of the utility industry. This chapter will look at some...

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