Shortage of skilled labour – a problem for the grid?

The sixth post in the «our grid» blog series on strategic grid planning at Swissgrid

Author: Sandra Bläuer

The grid of the future will require even more employees with specific expertise. But how can grid operators find them – given the shortage of skilled labour? Fiona Hasler from the Swisspower alliance of municipal utility companies and Marlene Eve from Swissgrid discuss the current situation and outline the most important measures for combating the issue.


Fiona Hasler

Employer Branding Project Manager

A vacuum will be created as many experienced specialists retire in the coming years, because there aren’t enough young employees to replace them.

Fiona Hasler, Swisspower

Everyone is talking about the shortage of skilled labour in Switzerland. How serious is the situation for distribution system operators?

Fiona Hasler: They are currently struggling to fill all the vacancies for technical and skilled professions. They usually succeed, but searching for suitable employees often takes much longer than it used to. This is serious because these professions account for the majority of all jobs. Demographic change is making the situation even worse: a vacuum will be created as many experienced specialists retire in the coming years, because there aren’t enough young employees to replace them.

Has the energy sector simply invested too little in training technical specialists in the past?

It isn’t possible to generalise like that. There are several reasons for the shortage of skilled labour in the energy sector. Firstly, skilled trades are considered less attractive than academic professions, partly in terms of wages. Secondly, many employees who have completed an apprenticeship with a grid operator continue their training and may go on to work in a different area. Thirdly, the tasks of grid operators are becoming increasingly complex. They need employees with very specific expertise in new professional fields. Finding these specialists is particularly difficult – especially as training programmes are not evolving as quickly as the tasks themselves.

Although there has been a veritable solar boom in Switzerland for years, a specific training programme for solar system installers has only just been established.

Fiona Hasler, Swisspower

What do you mean?

Change in the energy sector is happening faster than ever before. But it takes a long time to reform existing training courses, and even longer to introduce new ones. This is leading to a shortage of young skilled workers who are prepared for the new job profiles from the outset. For example, although there has been a veritable solar boom in Switzerland for years, a specific training programme for solar system installers has only just been established.

Speaking of the solar boom, decentralised electricity production with renewable energies is also resulting in changes to grid tasks. How does this affect the personnel situation with regard to the grid?

I’m concerned that it will get worse because companies will need even more specially trained specialists. Grid operators should therefore recognise the need for upskilling at an early stage – i.e. systematically training existing employees so that they have the necessary qualifications for the grid of the future.

A company’s image as an employer plays an important role in attracting new employees. How are grid operators perceived on the labour market?

In very different ways. This is because regionality plays a much greater role in the energy sector than in other industries. For example, if you ask people in Bern how they generally perceive energy companies as employers, you are unlikely to conjure up any images in their minds. But if you ask them about the municipal energy supplier Energie Wasser Bern as a company and employer, they have a much clearer picture. The fact that these companies have such strong regional roots benefits the grid operators, for example when they are looking for trainees. But it also means that they have to position themselves as employers.

What can they position themselves on?

Quite clearly on their mission to achieve a sustainable energy future and the usefulness of their professions. The message is «if you work for us, you can do a lot for the climate and for the people in the region». There are hardly any other industries that can make such a simple, clear and positive statement.

Doing nothing but make demands as an employer is definitely a thing of the past.

Fiona Hasler, Swisspower

Attracting new employees is one thing. But how can companies hold on to them?

As an employer, doing nothing but make demands and not meeting employees’ individual needs is definitely a thing of the past. Companies, and their HR specialists in particular, must therefore identify with their employees and recognise their needs – for example by enabling them to achieve a good work-life balance and offering further training and internal career opportunities.

What are the main levers for alleviating the shortage of skilled labour among grid operators?

Perhaps the greatest lever is the public perception of energy companies as employers. Individual companies and industry organisations should all implement corresponding measures. That’s why several Swisspower municipal utility companies have started cooperating in the area of employer branding. We are organising a nationwide campaign to show the population how attractive energy companies are as employers.


Marlene Eve
Marlene Eve

Talent Acquisition Manager

We attract more skilled workers if we are able to offer an authentic image of ourselves.

Marlene Eve

How badly is Swissgrid affected by the shortage of skilled labour? Does this have an impact on security of supply in Switzerland?

Marlene Eve: I can give the all-clear for Swissgrid: the shortage of skilled labour is not jeopardising security of supply. Of course, it sometimes takes us a little longer to find suitable employees in certain specialist fields – especially in IT and technical professions in the grid area. But overall, we are doing a good job of filling vacancies.

So is the shortage of skilled labour less dramatic than often described in the media?

The main thing to stress is that it is not a new phenomenon, and in some companies, it is even home-made to a certain extent.

What do you mean?

Firstly, many companies have high requirements and a very specific idea of the ideal person they are looking for – and they list these aspects in their job adverts. It is therefore not surprising that they only receive a few applications. At Swissgrid, we therefore always ask ourselves: which skills are really essential for this position, and which abilities can we help the candidate to develop ourselves in the course of further training? Secondly, some employers left it too late to prepare for the retirement wave of the baby boomer generation. They are now finding it difficult to manage the succession process as key personnel retire.

How has Swissgrid prepared for this?

Swissgrid has opted for «strategic recruiting». We are constantly looking to see which experts will be retiring in one or two years’ time. This gives us enough time to find a suitable successor and to safeguard as much expertise as possible.

We no longer see finding new employees merely as an administrative process.

Marlene Eve

What measures has Swissgrid already implemented to continue to find the skilled labour it needs in the future?

Measures include moving from «talent acquisition» to «talent attraction». That means that we no longer see finding new employees merely as an administrative process. Instead, we want to implement various measures to position ourselves as an attractive employer so that we can attract skilled personnel.

How do you manage that?

By conveying an authentic image of ourselves. We underline our culture and our values – what really defines us. For example, by getting employees to talk about their work in videos on our website. We are also very active on social media. I post regularly on my own LinkedIn profile. This is because when employees talk about their projects and Swissgrid as a company, it makes a more trustworthy impression on specialists who might be interested in working for us. Incidentally, this is also the reason why we rely heavily on employee recruitment programmes and why they are more and more effective.

What other measures are you planning?

We want to address specialists with interesting profiles directly via social business networks. We are also pursuing the idea of producing even more short videos and publishing them on channels such as TikTok in order to reach the talented young recruits of tomorrow.

Do you also approach young professionals in other ways?

Yes, we work closely with universities. We need to gain a reputation as an attractive employer there, as around 80 percent of our employees are university graduates. We have also launched a graduate programme and created the position of «Young Talents Specialist» in order to make more systematic use of the potential of apprentices, interns and working students.

Do technical specialists need to be approached differently on the labour market than other professional groups?

Many of them want a demanding, challenging, modern environment where they can apply their expertise in a targeted manner and make a difference. This is precisely the environment they find at Swissgrid – and obviously, we emphasise this in our image as an employer.

Many employees today want a job that really makes sense.

Marlene Eve

How important is the argument of doing a useful job? Swissgrid’s employees make a significant contribution to ensuring security of supply in Switzerland.

This is a key argument, and is one of the main reasons why specialists apply to us. It is estimated that one in two people mentions it in their job interview. That shows that many employees today want a job that really makes sense.


Sandra Bläuer
Sandra Bläuer

Communication Manager

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