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Shifting the dial: Workforce optimisation and regulatory frameworks in Utilities  

With the RIIO-2, PR19 and AMP7 planning process in full swing, utilities companies are under pressure to devise plans that will deliver a step change in efficiency, service levels and innovation. 
 
Ofgem and Ofwat’s new frameworks will require ambitious and comprehensive investment plans, spanning all areas of operations. 
 
This article explores how creating an optimised and flexible shift-based workforce could strengthen utilities companies’ strategies. 
 
Read on if you’d like to know more about how the effective planning, management and monitoring of shift patterns and rotas has the potential to unlock significant and sustainable benefits across many key areas scrutinised by regulators. 
 
Efficiency  
 
Increasing the productivity and efficiency of your workforce will make a considerable contribution to lowering costs for the consumer. 
 
It’s fair to say that many utilities companies maintain legacy resourcing models where employee working hours are still not optimally aligned to the demand of the organisation. This generates both underutilisation and a reliance on expensive overtime, impacting productivity and driving up payroll costs. 
 
To innovate in this area, your organisation could implement systems such as Demand-Led Rostering to plan resources effectively, maintain adequate capacity and ensure overtime is only used as a last resort. 
 
We’ve helped a number of customers in the utilities industry design optimised shift patterns including Thames Water, Wales & West Utilities, United Utilities, Northern Gas Networks and Welsh Water. 
 
This approach has helped them deliver improvements in productivity, manage down unnecessary labour costs and simplify the workforce planning and management process. 
 
Customer Service  
 
Whilst adopting an optimised resourcing model will deliver a step change in efficiency, it’s important that utilities companies factor in the day-to-day management of shift workers as part of their strategic planning. 
 
If utilities companies are to deliver the customer service scores required by Ofgem and Ofwat, it’s vital they have the tools necessary to reschedule resources in real time…adapting shift patterns and rotas to meet fluctuating demand. 
 
Relying on multiple spreadsheets or the non-specialist rota scheduling functions of HR, T&A and ERP systems to deliver truly responsive shift working is a major challenge. 
 
Limited visibility and complex workflows can lead to capacity gaps, missed targets, errors and create huge administrative overheads. 
 
The ability to execute shift worker scheduling tasks easily, consistently and accurately is at the heart of the latest version of our cloud-based software WORKSuite®
 
This specialist system provides an accurate forward view over key information (individuals on shift, hours worked, availability, skill sets etc.) and tools to assess rosters, examine cover delivered, monitor balances and pinpoint potential capacity gaps, clashes and inconsistencies. 
 
Resilience  
 
Notably in PR19, Ofwat has required potential workforce issues to be considered as part of ‘resilience in the round’. 
 
Recent research from Energy & Utilities Skills showed that an estimated 63,000 roles would need to be filled across the water supply sector alone by 2027. 
 
It’s clear that utilities companies will need to factor in working patterns as part of a holistic response to tackling the skills gap. 
 
Creating shift patterns that support aspirations around work-life balance and flexibility will be important to attract a new generation of talent and extend the working lives of existing workers, whose skills and knowledge must be effectively transferred. 
 
It’s an area of workforce strategy and planning that other industries with skilled workers, such as manufacturing and engineering, are already addressing.  
 
In a highly competitive labour market, overlooking the attractiveness of your working patterns could mean missing out on talent or having to pay over the odds to offset the less appealing conditions on offer. 
 
Working Time Solutions has been raising awareness of this issue in the Utilities sector for some time. You can find out much more in this article we produced, which was published in Utility Week in 2017. 


 
Compliance  
 
Ofwat and Ofgem’s regulatory frameworks always have best practice at their heart. Naturally this extends to avoiding non-compliance with HR legislation which can have significant reputational and financial impact. 
 
Poorly managed shift work is often a major contributing factor in breaches of Working Time Regulations and fatigue-related illness, accidents and injury. It’s not uncommon to find individuals working beyond 1,000 hours of overtime a year. This level of overworking risks accidents and health issues whilst driving up costs and lowering productivity.   
 
Not having 100% visibility on when and how long shift-based employees are working can make it impossible or onerous to identify issues, mitigate risk and prove compliance. 
 
Some utilities companies may be exposed because they don’t have a single, secure repository of accurate working time data that would support governance and help identify pressure points and potential resolutions. 
 
Working Time Solutions has developed specific tools for the utilities sector to monitor and maintain compliance with regulations, legislation, policies and best practice. 
 
Our WORKSuite® software enables companies to check adherence in real time and rely on automated risk flagging and action blocking to avoid potential breaches.  

So, what now? 
 
With regulators promising to be tougher than ever in their appraisal of utilities companies’ plans, demonstrating a commitment to workforce optimisation and best practice could make a significant difference. 
 
There is plenty of information on our website if you’d like to know more about the services and consultancy that Working Time Solutions use to support the effective planning, management and monitoring of shift workers in the utilities industry.  
 
If you’d like to learn more about the fundamentals of optimisation, book your place at our Workforce Planning Masterclass on 16th May 2019 in Manchester city centre. 
 
It’s an opportunity to learn directly from experts and industry peers who have delivered significant employee well-being, financial, operational and HR benefits by transforming their approach to shift working.  
 
Alternatively, you can arrange a free 1-2-1 consultation with one of our experts via our Shift Planning Clinics

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