Wednesday, November 26, 2008

You'll Miss Us When We're Gone: Boomers in the Electric Utility Industry

It's a digital world, baby, and the GenYs are masters of the digital universe. GenY brains are wired to think, perceive, emote and interact in a technology-saturated world. The achievements of Baby Boomers pale in comparison to the microchip-leveraged accomplishments we can expect to flow from the younger generations.

There's just one caveat: Digital technologies require a mundane, 19th-century technology to function: electricity. And guess who makes electricity? Baby Boomers.

Without a massive investment in new electrical generating and transmission capacity, industry experts say the United States faces delibitating brownouts and blackouts in just a few years. There are many barriers to increasing electricity supplies, but there's one that people aren't much talking about: The Boomer retirement wave.

Kevin McCarty talks about the problem in Electric Light & Power:

The energy utility industry averages the second-highest average employee age among 54 industries studied. Nearly one-fifth (19.2 percent) of industry workers are within five to seven years of retirement. The most alarming statistic involves age distribution. ... The average age of an energy utility employee is steadily rising; since 1995, the number of industry workers age 55 and older has increased 225 percent.
After years of cost cutting and downsizing, electric power companies have recruited very few young people. As it happens, few young people are drawn to the industry, which is regarded, with some reason, as antique if not downright antiquated. They don't think much of the industry's corporate culture either, which they regard as stodgy and hierarchical.

Those stereotypes may or may not be true. But GenYs won't be feeling terribly smug when the lights -- and computers, and the Internet, and FaceBook, and Twitter and the entire digital infrastructure of their lives -- blinks off.

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