April 2010 Vol. 237 No. 4


LDCs Develop Online Utility Leadership Academy

Richard Hinkie, Consultant

The bubble of Baby Boomer retirements is here and, thankfully, LDCs have some new tools to prepare both new field employees and management replacements faster and less expensively – a big advantage with today’s LDC budget challenges.

The Utility Leadership Academy is the latest example of LDCs and contractors working together to speed training and development and cut costs. Consumers Energy, Integrys, Kansas City Power & Light, Madison Gas & Electric, Henkels & McCoy, Inc., NiSource, We Energies and other leading companies have pooled their strategic thinking and dollars for everyone’s benefit.

Remember the days when it might take a new field employee 20-plus years to become a first-line supervisor? Not anymore. Just as between 30-40% of field personnel can retire in the next five years, their bosses can retire as well. And just as it takes training and experience to become a safe and productive field employee, it also requires training and on-the-job support to be a safe and productive crew leader, manager, and director.

“We have less time to develop new management personnel. Our landscape has changed due to an increase in retirements. Our line managers tell us that their people can’t wait for formal management classes; they need learning tools that can be used right now. In some cases, we are hiring supervisors into the company who have no utility experience. They need both management development and industry knowledge,” said Kris Emaus, manager of training for NiSource.

Emaus continued, “The Utility Leadership Academy (ULA) courses provide immediate access to learning. We also like the Harvard ManageMentor Plus program because it provides on-the-job performance support. It’s all online. This kind of learning technology can be expensive to buy on our own. Through the Utility Leadership Academy we get great content for less than half the regular cost.”

The cost savings with the ULA option is a major factor for LDCs and contractors. Utility and contractor incomes are down due to less economic activity. That puts even more pressure on to reduce expenses. Travel and seminar expenses are often the first budget cuts. With the ULA, no travel is needed, no outside trainers need to be hired, and the cost for an entire year’s worth of learning is relatively low per person. The Utility Leadership Academy features two main programs for management development:

  • Emerging Leader Curricula – for new supervisors/crew leaders,
  • Experienced Leader Curricula – for veteran supervisors and managers,
  • Plus Harvard Performance Support Tools – additional learning tools for all leadership levels.

Each library includes independent online study, two challenging practice simulations, and classroom materials for an optional local office session. The ULA system features two of the most recognized national learning suppliers: Harvard ManageMentor® Plus and SkillSoft (ahead of the learning curve).

The SkillSoft courses give learners instant access to content proven to work by Fortune 500 companies and many other organizations. Topics include transitioning to management, communications, team building, performance management, and project management. Progress checks and final tests help verify learning. Each group of courses from SkillSoft is supplemented with industry-specific content from EnergyU, the largest energy industry online learning portal. Both industry orientation and technical skills courses created by Midwest Energy Association (MEA) are offered along with SkillSoft courses as part of the Emerging and Experienced Leader curricula.

The Harvard ManageMentor Plus program is like an online mentor and offers performance support tips, videos and downloadable checklists and forms for just-in-time use on over 40 topics.

Companies can enroll employees in either or both programs. Jim Lenzer, director of employment and training for Madison Gas & Electric Co., said, “We saw this need coming and were glad to work with other companies to create a new tool to develop our management personnel. Each company has its own unique culture and will add their own special learning experiences, but the core content is very good and very affordable. Basic management and leadership skills tend to be the same across all companies.”

The Utility Leadership Academy is part of Energy University – EnergyU.org – the largest online learning resource available to the energy industry. MEA coordinates EnergyU, the Utility Leadership Academy, and the newly developed ElectricU on behalf of the utility industry. The choice of vendors and the content was made by a team of organizational and training professionals from across MEA’s membership. The top suppliers, including those already used by some LDCs, responded to a Request for Proposal and were carefully screened. The specific course selection was made based on utility input and leadership criteria identified in the 2005 MEA Leadership Development Model. Only a core set of the most important courses were chosen for deployment to ensure efficient use of employee time.

Test scores, dates of completion, and other data can be downloaded into LDC personnel data systems. Course-completion certificates can support employee application to local community colleges or be used with internal company recognition systems. CEU credits are available for all Leadership courses. Both the Harvard ManageMentor Plus program and SkillSoft are regarded educational material suppliers. LDCs continue to guide the Utility Leadership Academy program for their own benefit. Course satisfaction and emerging needs are regularly discussed and reviewed.

While LDCs and contractors report the Harvard ManageMentor Plus program and the selected SkillSoft courses are the best they have seen, they caution against relying on online learning alone. For the learning to sink in and make a real difference in performance, it must be coupled with related experiential learning. For example, one company reports that after assigning the coaching course, they asked each person to actually use the skills in several coaching situations and then they go over the experience with their boss. To help encourage practical application of the materials, there are several built-in activities within the course materials that small, local groups can use.

Another tip from LDC Training and Development Directors is to get senior management support. It helps gain and maintain buy-in from across all business units. They encourage holding multiple implementation meetings and getting local managers involved with their feedback and suggestions. This can create a genuine, positive buzz about the program. For more information go to: UtilityLeadershipAcademy.com or contact Dianne Felty of Midwest Energy Association, (651) 289-9600 x131. E-mail: diannef@midwestenergy.org.

Detailed Utility Leadership Academy Libraries

Emerging Leader Program
EnergyU Courses
Recommended Selections
• Abnormal Operating Conditions
• Characteristics and Hazards of Natural Gas
• Electric Power
• Electric Safety
• Hazardous Material Handling
• Hazardous Emergency Response
• Basic Utilities
• Industry Dynamics
SkillSoft Courses
• Becoming a Manager
• A New Manager’s Responsibilities
• Lead and Communicate Effectively
• A New Manager’s Role in the Company’s Future
• Principles of Financial Management
SkillSoft Simulations
• Moving into Management
• Leadership in Management

Experienced Leader Program
EnergyU Courses
Recommended Selections
• Prevention of Accidental Ignition
• Locating Pipelines
• Personal Protective Equipment
• Working in Closed & Confined Spaces
• Directional Drilling Safety
• First Aid
• Ethical and Legal Decisions
SkillSoft Courses
• Competencies for Tomorrow’s Managers
• Development Tools for Tomorrow’s Managers
• The Manager as Coach and Counselor
• The Manager as Project Champion
• A Manager’s Primer for Ensuring Accountability
SkillSoft Simulations
• Essential People Management Skills
• Essential Skills for Tomorrow’s Managers

Performance Support Tools Library
Harvard ManageMentor® Plus System
• 41 Management, Communications, Planning, Strategy and Personal Development Topics
• Use as Training or Quick Reference only
• 24/7 Online Access
• Printable Checklists and Guides
• Optional Harvard Business Publications for Additional Learning

Ric Hinkie has been involved in energy industry education and training issues for more than 40 years. He is one of the founders of the American Gas Association Learning Systems and Energy University. He has guided teams creating learning materials for Carrier Corporation, Cutler Hammer, N.A.P.A., the American Payroll Association and the Society for Human Resource Management. He recently retired from the Midwest Energy Association and continues to follow workforce education and safety issues and writes about successful practices in the energy industry. He can be reached at 928-848-4501 or richinkie@gmail.com.-


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