The electric utility industry is shaped and transformed through the introduction of disruptive technology ultimately benefiting consumers and improving operations. Often, new technology comes with the collateral impact of the elimination of jobs and skills which for many decades have been in high demand. Smart Grid Technologies are increasingly commonplace throughout the utility industry and the deployment of remote meter-reading and other two-way communications targets the traditional manual meter reader job as an early casualty of this technological evolution. This blog offers a glimpse into common approaches to proactively addressing meter-reader job transition and how this creates an opportunity for those utilities that embrace the disruption.
While technological advances do eliminate some jobs (or the old way of doing things), they also give rise to a new set of opportunities and career options. Those organizations and employees who prepare for and embrace the opportunities of change can often reap early benefits. Progressive utilities understand the value long-term meter readers possess, and that meter readers are the eyes and ears of the utility. Meter readers are generally self-managed and possess unique utility system knowledge, such as where meters are located, while also serving as the primary face to the utility customer demographic. These traits and knowledge are invaluable and worth retaining to ensure effective utility operation, especially through any major transformation, such as smart meter deployment.
Based on the experience and best practices of those utility’s that embrace change and prepare for the workforce of the future, five potential strategies that should be considered when preparing for meter reader transition, include:
- Continue Reading Meters for Now – The transition to Smart Grid Technologies is a multi-year program. Throughout a typical Smart Meter deployment, analog meters must still be read and some level of Meter Readers are still needed, even after full deployment.
- Transition to Meter Deployment or Third Party Meter Reading Vendor – Many utilities engage an independent partner to manage the multi-year deployment while the utility manages the day-to-day operations. In addition, utilities are also shifting to third party meter reading vendors to take over from the current workforce either due to technology conversions or efficiency and safety concerns. A meter reader could have the option to be hired under employment of these types of vendors, with the recommendation and support of the utility employer. This type of career transition can be lucrative and enlightening for those who want to travel and assist other utilities through their deployment.
- Train for a New Job within the Utility – Meter readers can often qualify for other positions within their current utility. Depending on union contracts, seniority, and company focus on this issue, utilities can modify and prioritize training programs and job selections to successfully transition Meter Readers into new roles in the company.
- Employ as Quality Inspectors and Meter Technicians – As new meters are deployed in a targeted program, and in future ongoing system expansions, a subset of meter readers will need to be retained and re-trained to continue to inspect, test, and exchange smart meter devices. These meter technician roles can often be expanded to include new software and telecommunications skills to match the evolution of information and data collection systems.
- Allow for Early Retirement – Preparing appropriate retired packages for meter readers should they choose to take that option requires an increase in human resources operations.
The options listed above are a good starting place for those employees and utility organizations that want to develop a proactive approach to displaced job classifications resulting from meter reading technology changes.
As the utility workforce ages and advanced digital transformation continues, utilities will not be replacing “like with like” for many classifications. There will be new technology, analytics, and decision-making skills required in the future smart utility as well as new cross-functional and collaborative communication and knowledge sharing skills. Early opportunities to develop and expand meter reader skills and roles can be the leading edge of a new organizational design approach that includes new job definitions, roles, training, and even organizational structures.