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Rise to the challenge: how good training can boost utilities’ reputations

To be well thought of in the sector for their training capabilities, utilities face two huge challenges outside of routine training needs: the smart meter rollout and the Green Deal.

The latter will enable private companies to offer consumers energy-efficiency improvements to their homes, community spaces and businesses at no upfront cost, and to recoup payments through a charge on customers’ energy bills, available from late 2012. This could lead to the installation of 14 million insulation measures such as loft, cavity and solid wall in Britain’s homes.

Both initiatives will require a lot of skilled, manpower that utilities do not have at present. It is estimated that more than 6,000 installers will be required to complete the smart metering rollout across the UK between 2014 and 2019, while according to energy and climate change secretary Chris Huhne, if all 26 million households in Britain took up the Green Deal over the next 20 years, employment in the sector would rise from its current level of 27,000 to about 250,000.

Given the timeframe and the scale of both operations, one of the key components to their successful deployment will be training. In respect of the Green Deal, Huhne announced last February that at least 1,000 Green Deal apprentices could receive government funding towards their training. Communications will be a crucial part of this initiative, too: if people take advantage of the scheme, they are going to have a different financial relationship with their energy provider, so the scheme’s benefits will need to be promoted.

From a reputational point of view, there is much at stake here. Customers historically have a poor relationship with their energy suppliers, and the success of the Green Deal will depend on how it is sold. Smart meter installation and ongoing management are also laden with potential pitfalls if adequate training has not been carried out.

Put simply, companies’ reputations are on the line: if energy companies fail to convince customers of the benefits, both programmes could fail and consumer relationships could disintegrate. Long-term customer buy-in delivered by a well-trained workforce is essential.

This article was written by Alastair Pickering, research and operations director at Alva and released in full on Utility Week. See Alva’s live ranking of the reputations of the big six suppliers at utilityweek.co.uk

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