Good Prospects for Smart Grid Job Seekers

By Heather Anusbigian

Our latest smart grid hiring survey finds that it is still a seller’s market: Companies are having to offer more in terms of salary and bonuses to obtain the recruits they want and need; at the same time, they are expecting more of candidates—both those coming straight out of school and those with some professional experience.

A new survey of smart grid employment market trends finds that hiring continues to be on the upswing, despite significant challenges facing those responsible for attracting, recruiting and retaining talent. The average time needed to recruit an inexperienced professional employee increased by 25 percent last year, and the average hiring bonus offered experienced professionals increased 18 percent. Almost three fifths of hiring managers offered relocation bonuses.

Published last month in January 2014 by A. Cullen & Associates Inc. in conjunction with Zpryme’s Smart Grid Insights, the 2013 Smart Grid Hiring Trends Research Report is based on a survey of 115 smart grid hiring managers conducted between May and August last year. The report provides important insight into the emerging trends that are evolving within this sector’s hiring landscape.

Hiring executives expected hiring activity to increase 9 percent in 2013, and that rather robust projection may turn out to have been conservative, considering the previous year’s experience. In the 2012 survey, respondents anticipated a 38 percent decrease in hiring that year, but hiring actually increased by 26 percent, according to the latest survey. Even if 2013 expectations were roughly on target, the increase in smart grid hiring last year is virtually certain to have far surpassed the economy-wide average increase of 2 percent.

Hiring managers continue to have some trouble attracting both inexperienced and experienced hires, yet seem unwilling to make any compromises on qualification requirements, including desired degrees, additional certifications and experience levels. Because of laggard growth in domestic graduates obtaining desired degrees, an unfavorable immigration policy barring the retention of qualified foreign graduates, an expected attrition rate of power industry engineers in the 50 percent range over the next five years, and a corresponding generational shift in the workforce, hiring managers are struggling to fill open roles expeditiously.

What is more, respondents reported a slightly greater reliance on experienced candidates over inexperienced candidates in 2013, which increased the overall cost of talent acquisition.

One major finding to emerge from the 2013 data, in comparison to 2012, is that additional qualifications are being required of job candidates. Hiring managers are raising the bar, expecting more of both inexperienced and experienced hires in terms of academic achievement, experience and soft skills.

When it comes to job candidates without professional experience, 50 percent more hiring managers are requiring a master’s degree and 30 percent more now require additional certifications. Among the survey respondents, 17 percent now specify Engineer in Training (EIT) or Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.

Analytic skills, oral communication ability and problem-solving skills continued to be among the capabilities most widely required of inexperienced job candidates in 2013. An additional skill now ranking in the top 10 is hands-on experience with relevant technologies obtained from internships or educational curricula.

As for job candidates with some professional experience, 24 percent more hiring managers now expect them to have a master’s degree. Among managers requiring additional certification, 40 percent are looking for Professional Engineer (PE) certification. Hiring managers are looking for candidates to have 5.7 years of experience, on average.

Another major finding to emerge from the 2013 survey is that recruitment of smart grid employees is becoming more difficult and expensive.

Starting salaries for recruits without experience jumped 7 percent, far higher than the average national increase of 2.4 percent. Inexperienced candidates taking smart grid positions in 2013 were making 35 percent more on average than the typical college graduate.

To entice both inexperienced and experienced candidates to join their organizations, hiring managers are offering increased sign-on bonuses. While the number of managers leveraging bonuses to recruit inexperienced talent has decreased, those using these monetary incentives have increased their payouts by 47 percent. The average hiring bonus offered to experienced hires increased 18 percent last year.

Landing a candidate is becoming an arduous affair, with open positions staying unfilled for an average of 3.5 months for employers seeking candidates without experience and 4.3 months when seeking candidates with experience. While recruiting experienced professionals has not gotten any longer since the 2012 study, it takes 23 percent longer to find an experienced hire versus an inexperienced hire. In addition, time to hire increased 25 percent for those without professional experience.

Because of the many challenges facing the smart grid companies and organizations that are seeking qualified staff, employers are working harder at recruitment and exploring a wide variety of approaches. For example, executive leadership is becoming more involved in the development of smart grid hiring policies: 30 percent more respondents indicated that upper level leadership is now shouldering this important responsibility.

Networking with industry organizations to share best practices remains the top method for solving long-term challenges. An increasing number of respondents— 20 percent versus 15 percent in 2012—indicate that they are engaged in discussions with the academic world to better develop needed human resources.

Anticipating the potentially paralyzing “brain drain” associated with large-scale retirement, hiring managers also are actively developing knowledge transfer strategies. Mentoring programs continued to top the list in 2013, while outside assistance from consultants and training organizations gained more widespread usage, increasing by 39 percent and 34 percent respectively.

While 8 percent fewer organizations reported the use of telecommuting as a strategy to both attract and retain top talent, more than four fifths of smart grid employers continue to allow employees to telecommute.

In an effort to more deeply explore human resources solutions in 2013, hiring managers were asked several new questions regarding their use of relocation packages, their willingness to hire candidates outside the industry and their international employee strategy:

  • Nearly three out of five of the responding recruiters said they are offering relocation packages to level the geographic playing field.
  • Hiring managers are recruiting from outside industries in an effort to increase the size of their talent pools. Candidates from the information technology, telecommunications and cyber security fields rank the highest for having transferable skill sets that can advance smart grid initiatives.
  • Over half of those surveyed indicated that they hire non-U.S. citizens to fill open smart grid roles.

The full 2013 hiring trends report is available for purchase via and ($100 from the sale of each report will be donated to the IEEE PES Scholarship Plus Initiative.) Only U.S.-based executives and managers who played a role in making hiring decisions for smart grid positions were allowed to participate in the survey, which contained a total of 54 questions.




Heather Anusbigian has directed the research, marketing strategy and product development initiatives for A. Cullen & Associates, Inc. since 2011. Cullen & Associates is an executive search firm serving the smart grid, commodities and energy industries. She has authored numerous articles on the topic of workforce challenges facing the utility sector and has played an instrumental role in the development of statistically significant research to identify emerging hiring trends in the smart grid industry. Anusbigian previously held marketing leadership roles at Datamyx, an information services company, Chad Therapeutics (now Drive Medical), a medical device manufacturer and Quicken Loans. She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Kalamazoo College in Michigan.