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Overcoming the smart meter rollout engineering resource challenge

Meter installer


The UK Government’s smart meter rollout will see around 53 million smart meter devices installed by energy suppliers in 30 million homes and business by the end of 2020. One of the key aims of the programme, which has an estimated overall spend of around £11 billion, is to engage and inform consumers on energy consumption, aligning with the Government’s desire to move to a lower carbon economy.

The rollout obligation sits wholly with Great Britain’s energy suppliers: the large, ‘Big Six’ suppliers, and the smaller independent energy suppliers find themselves facing the same challenges in achieving rollout targets.



The challenges

Facilitated by a major IT programme, the original start date for the mass rollout has been pushed back several times.  Early changes were eventually met with a corresponding shift in the rollout completion date, but the Government has now committed to an end date of 2020 meaning that ramp up rates will be considerable over a programme now shortened to four and a half years.
 
Undoubtedly, the biggest challenge is the current shortfall of trained dual fuel installation engineers who have the appropriate technical skills required for the safe installation of smart meters. Traditionally engineers have been trained in either gas or electricity installation, so the focus now is on upskilling existing engineers with dual fuel installation capabilities and attracting new talent to the industry. The National Skills Academy for Power and Energy Utility and Skills has estimated that an additional 7,600 engineers will be required at the peak of the programme and that the latest timetable changes would drive a requirement for an additional 2,200 engineers. These engineers will be required, not only, to have the training and qualifications to perform the installation, but also excellent customer service skills to engage the customer with the Smart Metering System and their energy usage.
 
While the large energy suppliers have recognised the value of their own workforce as a key touchpoint for customers and have developed their own metering operations businesses, the independent suppliers, which currently account for around 10 per cent of the market, should now be selecting their partners carefully based on the scale of customer engagement they will have to achieve and new industry processes.
 
Finding and retaining the right talent

Siemens currently has 80 trained and experienced dual fuel installation engineers who provide coverage across Great Britain. Although this figure is adequate for meeting current demand, Siemens acknowledges that it will need to increase the number fivefold to meet the demand of the smart meter rollout. Will Ephraim, Head of Business Development, says: “We are ahead of the game when it comes to recruiting the right people. We have an exclusive partnership with recruitment experts that brings us, not only a permanently employed workforce and agreed volume of labour, but the space to focus on what we do best and that is training our engineers to the highest levels of quality, safety and customer service. With this approach to recruitment our customers also benefit from our ability to resource rapidly to meet their volumes.”
 
Large companies may be able to attract talent based on name alone, but it is retention that is key to maintaining accurate levels of resource. Siemens’ experience with managing large field forces means they recognise the benefit of a close level of management. Current ratios of field managers to engineers is a healthy 1:15 which ensures a high level of safety and, with the danger of field engineers feeling isolated, also addresses employee well-being.
 
Siemens’ exacting training standards and excellent safety record increases loyalty in a competitive market. Regular audits of engineer’s jobs ensure that high levels of safety, install quality and low incident rates are achieved. It is this attention to safety that saw Siemens Managed Services awarded the ROSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) Gold Award for the 17th consecutive year in 2015. 

Challenges to opportunities

It is of paramount importance for the independent energy supplier to engage early with installation specialists who have sourced and trained a workforce that will meet exacting expectations. In 2016, each supplier will be required to agree with the regulator annual milestones, that is, the number of meters that can be installed. By partnering with an industry leading installation specialist, risk is outsourced and resource managed effectively, ensuring installation targets are met to the highest level of customer service.
 
The smart metering rollout is a valuable opportunity for independent energy suppliers to increase their customer retention levels by improving customer experience and increasing efficiency. Independent suppliers are operating in a small and volatile market that consists of active switchers on fixed term contracts; what the smart meter rollout offers is an opportunity to improve service levels and deliver a positive customer experience that will increase the potential for marketing based on pre-agreement from a customer.
 
Accurate customer segmentation based on areas such as language, culture, age or technological knowledge will enhance the experience for the customer and create a connection with the supplier. Segmented approaches, combined with self serve capabilities offer the opportunity to maximise programme efficiency, whilst personalising service and improving overall customer satisfaction.