Success Stories » North Eastern Energy Agency

CASE STUDY: North Eastern Energy Agency

Profile of the Organization

The Northeast Utilities (NEU) system was the first new multi-state public utility holding company system created since the enactment of the U.S. Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935.  NEU was formed on July 1, 1966, when three companies - The Connecticut Light and Power Company, Western Massachusetts Electric Company (WMECO), and The Hartford Electric Light Company - affiliated under the common ownership of NEU, the system's parent company. In 1967, Holyoke Water Power Company (HWP) joined the affiliation and in 1992, Public Service Company of New Hampshire (PSNH), became a new member.

NEU operates New England’s largest utility system serving more than two million electric and natural gas customers in Connecticut, western Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  NEU is a Fortune 500 diversified energy company, with its headquarters located in Connecticut and operations throughout the Northeast, USA.  NEU’s vision is: Energy, Growth, and Leadership.

SERVICES AND/OR GOODS PROVIDED

NEU provides a full range of energy products and services to millions of residential and business customers. Upon its creation, NEU had nearly one (1) million customers (846,000 – electric and 145,000 – gas).

  • Industry leader in transmission construction, energy efficiency, emergency response, and many other categories. 
  • Won both national and international acclaim. Award-winning conservation and load management efficiency program, and in 2008 the Platts Global Energy Award for excellence in execution of transmission construction.


HUMAN RESOURCES

NEU has over 6,000 employees- all types of electricians, linemen, and construction.  The company offers extensive in-house training in a number of general and specialized technical and engineering areas.  Follow a systematic approach to training.  For instance they provide training on any new equipment; legacy systems that will be in effect for at least another half decade; critical skill and knowledge needs.

  • Have 13 work centres in Connecticut
  • Train about 3,500 employees annually
  • NEU supports their engineers in obtaining specialization certificates / degrees and Masters in Electrical Engineering.  It is taught through Worcester Polytechnic at the NEU training site.
  • Make very good use of their own resources in terms of internal experts providing the training (engineers, field personnel, linemen etc) and bringing back retirees to develop and conduct specialized technical training.
  • Partners with other utility companies for training purposes – since all are competing for the same labour source
  • Partners with many tertiary education institutions and organizations, particularly: Bismarck College in North Dakota; Connecticut Community colleges; Electrical Providers Coalition for Education (EPCE), Coalition for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), University of Connecticut, Center for Energy Workforce Development
  • Provides an in-house apprenticeship program(s) and are currently modifying some of the modules.
  • All apprentices and new graduate employees are provided 5 weeks of training annually for the first four years in the company.  New recruits are also paired up in the field with an experienced employee.
  • NEU has its own an Information Technology Learning Centre and can provide simulated learning experiences.


Knowledge Management / Transfer Approach

BUSINESS DRIVERS FOR EMBARKING ON KM/KT

HR Drivers – high retirement rates and the need to transfer knowledge before people leave.

Some technical jobs are difficult to recruit, primarily because of the specialized knowledge and new technical requirements that continue to expand. Utility companies are all competing for the same relatively small labour pool.

APPROACH TO INTRODUCING KM/KT

  • Undertook an examination of the best way to introduce the knowledge transfer concept to the business units as part of a five-year business plan (2008-2012).  This plan focused on corporate talent and leadership development and the key supporting and enabling role of knowledge transfer.  The plan includes knowledge transfer workshops, provides start-up support for two communities of practice and some technology infrastructure. The plan was accepted, funded and built into the company’s human resources strategy.  
  • Under the banner of workforce planning, Human Resources/Training built and presented a business case for knowledge transfer and piloted knowledge capture in some key operational positions.  NEU is committed to capturing and transferring knowledge as critical to maintaining its electricity and gas networks.
  • The focus is on knowledge capture and transfer.  Training and Human Resources Departments work closely together.
  • Human Resources undertake workforce planning and demographic analyses.  Project retirements and analyze the positions and skills that are leaving the company.  Project skill and position needs and recruitment needs.
  • Demographic profile information is shared with Training.  Training analyzes the types of positions and skills that are projected to retire; assesses whether the position and/or incumbent possesses critical skills / competencies and knowledge and whether this needs to be captured.  Also assesses the numbers retiring in each position / skill set and whether training is needed (e.g. if losing all resources that currently maintain a high risk legacy system).  Training liaises on a regular basis with management and staff across the company and in the fields to learn training and development needs and potential critical skills loss and specialty needs.


Knowledge Management / Transfer Initiatives
include:

  • Captured critical situational knowledge from engineers, and identified a storage area for this knowledge within Lotus Notes (a commonly used IBM software platform). An automatic annual review for accuracy and applicability is being implemented.
  • Transferred knowledge to two gas project engineers on four situation-based examples and 25 explicit tasks involving critical knowledge and decision-making.  As a result NEU developed a master list of knowledge requirements to perform gas project engineering work.
  • Transferred knowledge to one electrical maintenance supervisor on 10 critical knowledge aspects across three areas: substation, circuits, and work center knowledge. Captured and stored the 10 aspects in a database with automatic annual review for accuracy and applicability.
  • Developed a generic process for knowledge capture and transfer applications which can be utilized to duplicate the effort for other critical positions.
  • Identified critical positions where knowledge loss could affect the organization. Initiated roll-out (2007-2009) of performance talent management training, which will have a knowledge transfer component.
  • Breathed new life into the mentoring concept by formalizing a knowledge transfer process for two positions.


KM/KT POSITIONS

KT is integrated into NEU operations

KM PRODUCTS/SERVICES

NEU has many searchable databases (e.g. all types of electrical standards; procedures and methodologies).

KNOWLEDGE Management Products / Services – Focus on HR

KT PRODUCTS/SERVICES

HR Related Practices – Training

  • Developed a Five Year Training Plan through analysis of human resources workforce demographics; the company’s legacy systems and available training budget and company priorities. 
  • Criteria for development of any new course requires that sufficient numbers of employees require the skills/knowledge to run classes for at least a four year period. (If less than that then specialized workshops / seminars are developed rather than a training program)
  • Use a lot retirees as trainers
  • Have many external contracts with learning institutes and national training organizations. 
  • Developing training programs on smart grids with CAEL and EPSE training in Chicago. Eight utility companies across different states have formed an Advisory Committee in conjunction with EPSE to develop curricula for the utility companies.  NEU’s Director of Training is a participant on this Committee.  This means NEU helps to design the EPSE courses and knows what to expect from EPSE graduates in terms of their knowledge, training and skill base when recruiting for new personnel.
  • Provides training in partnership with tertiary educational institutions leading to   Master Degrees in Electrical Engineering.  These are on-line courses.
    • Graduated Retirement Programs / Use of Retirees
    • Retirees / persons close to or intending to retire can opt to work part time
    • Provide graduated retirement programs
    • Retirees hired back as technical writers, as trainers and as mentors.
    • Use a lot of retirees as trainers
    • Mentoring Program (bring back retirees as mentors).
  • Mapping Exercises for Knowledge Capture – Internal Process
  • Training works with the Operations / field area to map processes and document the process.


Approach:

  • Identify persons leaving who occupy a critical position and/or have unique knowledge.  Employees in the field identify the critical skills and critical knowledge requirements and pass this information to Training – for either knowledge capture and/or development of training workshops / courses and/or new modules to apprenticeship programs.
  • Training hires a technical writer to work with the individual(s) to shadow their work for several weeks or months; to develop a detailed process map of the work requirements; to validate the process map with the individual(s); to interview and discuss all aspects of the job and the context of the job requirements.
  • Training developed a simple template form: “Knowledge Transfer Process” to capture a unique knowledge or skill that is important to the company.  Trainers use this form. The form addresses:
      • What skill / knowledge it covers
      • Why it is unique / critical
      • What are the risks associated with having or not having this skill / knowledge available
      • Assign a priority to capturing the knowledge based on the answers to the questions on the form
      • Target who needs to receive this knowledge / skill and by what method / media (work method document; training workshop; written procedures; incorporated into the company’s apprenticeship program(s), etc.  “Find the right solution for the type of knowledge that needs to be transferred.”
  • Writer develops the appropriate documentation to capture the knowledge – could be a technical manual; process charts; training module.  Training and operations and the individual(s) decide on the best communication method and type of media for knowledge transfer of the knowledge that has been captured.
      • EXAMPLE:  Individual who is responsible for databases on engineering standards and no one but this one worker knows how to maintain the database system.   Training arranged for a technical writer to work with the individual to develop a process map and accompanying documentation.
      • EXAMPLE:  Just completed a knowledge capture exercise of two overhead Linemen.   Technical writer was hired and observed the linemen; interviewed them – what they did and how they did it; transferred this knowledge into a procedure manual that included capturing the nuances of the job (e.g. clues to knowing something is wrong such as a type of noise etc).
  • EXAMPLE: Knowledge capture exercise on certain types of bridges that are restrictive to certain vehicle sizes.  Only a few of these still exist, but they need to be maintained and with the older workforce leaving this is important to ensure that the company has captured the tasks involved and trained new workers in the processes and competencies required.
  • EXAMPLE:  Have just hired back two retirees for 6 months to work with Training Department and undertake the technical writing; job shadowing; interviewing and training for staff in an electrical engineering specialty.  The retirees develop the documentation and also conduct the training. 
  • EXAMPLE:  Have a legacy system dealing with ‘lead splicing’.  Only have a few lead and paper splicing left – about six.  But these still need to be serviced and maintained.  NEU brings back a retiree once a year to train several employees on lead and paper splicing and will continue to do this until all such splices are out of commission.
  • EXAMPLE:  Training developed a business case for the development of “switch training’.  The switch training positions were analyzed by human resources and training through a gap analysis and needs assessment on a job class.  It was determined that such skills would be required for another decade and that the switching network is a high-risk activity since failures can lead to major outages and fires.  To provide such training a model of each type of switch network has been set up in NEU’s main training facility and employees are annually taught how to maintain these switches.


MORE INFORMATION

Quoted in KM Magazine articles with several KM examples to learn from.

SUMMARY

SUMMARY OF THE CHALLENGE EXPERIENCED

Senior management has always been very supportive of all HR/Training knowledge capture and transfer initiatives based on the development and presentation of a business case.