In September, leaders from HomeServe presented at two conferences. While the topics and audiences were quite different, a common theme that emerged was the critical need for strategies and solutions to address the skilled trades gap, to ensure continuity and customer service excellence.

The 2023 E Source Forum brought together over 800 North American utility professionals for learning, networking and collaboration. Sylvester Criscone, HomeServe’s Senior Vice President of Contractor Management, was a panellist for a session entitled, “Workforce Solutions to Improve Utility Program Outcomes.” The other panellists were Paul Douglas, president of the JPI Group, a recruiting and workforce development expert specializing in hiring diverse talent; Scott Sommers, SVP at Index AR Solutions, a provider of custom and off-the-shelf products designed to make workers safer, more capable, and more productive; and Vince Ruggeri, a research analyst on the E Source Customer Energy Solutions team with a focus on helping utilities design trade ally networks.

With utilities facing the retirement of a significant portion of its workforce, this session explored the significant challenge and potential solutions for recruiting and training new people, providing skills development, addressing matters related to diversity and inclusion, and filling roles necessary for the success of customer programs. Sylvester Criscone cited data from a HomeServe contractor survey about this issue, that one quarter of respondents have attrition rates of 30% or greater. “Our contractors often rely on hiring ‘Helper’ roles, hoping they will progress to Apprentice and Journeyman, but they feel that there is a significant need for more vocational education at the high school level.” The other participants also cited the critical need for more formal educational opportunities as an alternative to traditional university programs.

The Energy Solutions Center’s 2023 Salt Lake City Technology & Market Assessment Forum (TMAF), the premier education conference for North American gas utility marketing, sales, and customer support representatives, focused on innovative approaches to bringing energy-efficient natural gas solutions to residential, commercial, and industrial customers. Peter Buttrick, HomeServe’s SVP Corporate Development, and Nathan Shanlian, HomeServe’s Director, Regional Operations Management presented Customer Retention Strategies, which centered around offering value-added residential solutions that enhance safety and resiliency, and increase trust, loyalty and satisfaction with the utility.

Gas utilities in attendance provided valuable feedback on this topic. First, they had not previously considered offering protection plans as a retention play however, they could help to preserve the acquisition cost which exceeds $3,000 per new gas connection, on average. Additionally, utility personnel indicated that managing trade allies is very difficult and, in many cases, the utility just provides a list of contractors on their website.

HomeServe’s extensive vetting and management of local contractors would be invaluable to utilities in terms of ensuring service excellence to customers and helping to support local businesses. The attendees also acknowledged that the positive attribution to the utility from offering valuable solutions and important protection to customers would help to increase customer perception and satisfaction.