by Robert Carpenter | Editor-in-Chief
A special Distribution Contractors Association (DCA) Workforce Summit was held in May to unveil details about research into the many issues impacting the current and potential workforce for the gas distribution industry.
DCA has taken a multi-layered approach in seeking answers to many of the workforce challenges that its contractor members are wrestling with today. In some cases, identifying, hiring and retaining an adequate workforce of both skilled and unskilled labor is presenting an obstacle to industry health. The gas distribution construction and maintenance markets have been experiencing strong levels of activity for several years and continual challenges in staffing to meet industry needs persist in stifling growth.
One of the major projects the DCA commissioned to better grasp modern workforce issues was a study by The Center for Generational Kinetics (CGK) to survey and draw conclusions regarding how the nation’s workforce views career opportunities or interests in the industry. This research was the primary focus of the day-and-a-half DCA Workforce Summit.
CGK’s President Jason Dorsey led the first day’s discussion, on generational descriptions, differences and approaches to working in the underground utilities field. The second day of the summit included a presentation on how to onboard workforce candidates for considering a career in the underground pipeline and utility construction industry.
Dorsey provides a generational overview which defined Baby Boomers as those born between 1946 and 1964; Generation X as 1965 to 1976; Millennials, 1977 to 1995; and Generation Z, 1996 to the present.
Much of the conversation focused on the oft-maligned Millennials, which total approximately 83 million in the U.S.
“Millennials are much more risk adverse and don’t want to move,” Dorsey explained. “But there is a tendency to think that they are not working. The truth is that there are more Millennials in the workforce than any other generation. Millennials are the most diverse generation in U.S. history.”
Dorsey also pointed out that while Millennials “have more college degrees than any other generation, they also have accumulated more college debt. Millennials believe higher education in an office environment is their best future, not outside work. They have little interest in traveling. They delay major life development and life decisions. Millennials are tech dependent, communicating via text and social media. They do use email to a lesser degree, but only read the subject line.”
Dorsey stressed that all Millennials are not the same and that generally by age 30, split into two different types of generations that no longer relate to each other. “It’s at that point where one group starts doing what they are supposed to be doing – settling into a job or career, starting a family – doing the right stuff. The other generation is still not creating real-world traction.”
On an encouraging note, Dorsey had positive observations regarding the emerging workforce from Generation Z. In his company’s view, that population is beginning to enter the workforce as its members hit the 18 – 20 age range. “This generation may just represent a salvation of sorts,” said Dorsey.
It turns out that Gen Z has seen the future of the Millennial generation and found it undesirable. In fact, Gen Z’s attitudes seem to reflect a stronger work ethic and financially responsible tact. They want good careers that don’t necessarily equate to a college education: steady work, competitive pay, excellent benefits and overall career opportunities.
“Our studies show that Gen Z is very different from Millennials. Their parents are Gen Xers and older Millennials. They are heavily influenced by the Great Recession and its aftermath. They are fiscally pragmatic and tech empowered,” Dorsey
Wrapping up the first day’s program, Dorsey said he believes the underground pipeline construction industry has tremendous potential with Gen Z and Millennial workers.
“This study shows there are clear drivers that motivate these generations to apply for a job – even in an industry that they are not familiar with – including specific messaging, job positioning, job training and career pathway options.
“These new generations want to work in an industry such as DCA’s, but the method for reaching and engaging these potential employees must evolve. The good news is that this is entirely doable based on the study’s findings. In short, the industry can be the right fit for Gen Z and Millennials, but to show this great fit, it must adapt how it positions its careers in alignment with what most motivates these generations.”
The second day’s presentation concentrated on how to connect with the current Millennials and future Generation Z to attract and retain them in the underground utility and pipeline industry. The morning’s workshop looked at their job expectations and industry perceptions, how to recruit current and next generations, how to message the industry to younger workers and how to transform industry jobs into careers.
To keep th e momentum going and to improve recruitment efforts for the entire association, Workforce Committee representative Randy Rupp said next steps to ensure that DCA’s investment in workforce development continues to pay off for both contractor and associate members include:
Establishing a Beta Group of DCA member companies (two-to-three contractor members and one-to-two associate members) that are willing to work with the Workforce Committee and the Center for Generational Kinetics to take the data and implement it into the recruiting and retention efforts at their businesses.
Monitoring progress and success, and communicating results.
Producing a Best Practices Quick Start manual and sharing it with DCA members.
DCA continues to invest time and funds into solving workforce issues for the underground infrastructure markets. Focused on multiple paths, the DCA has made substantial progress in defining the issues and developing solutions.