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How OPPD is navigating the national labor shortage

March 2, 2022 | Jason Kuiper | industry, OPPD employees
labor shortage hiring

Even before the pandemic, Nebraska had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. It now sits under 2%. For many employers and certain industries, that labor shortage has made finding and keeping talented workers a struggle.

At OPPD, hiring amid that labor shortage has been navigated largely by implementing a number of targeted programs and strategies. Some of those strategies, like holding boot camps for some field positions, were in place several years before the pandemic. Other strategies focus on the candidates’ values and how they fit with OPPD, rather than on credentials on a resume.

High standing

One benefit for OPPD is its traditional reputation as a great place to work, said John Staup, director of talent acquisition at the utility. Competitive pay and benefits, strong community standing, and the opportunity to do work that makes a difference in people’s lives have long meant OPPD is seen as a destination employer.

John Staup
OPPD works to find people whose values align with those held by the utility and its employees, said John Staup, director of talent acquisition.

“People certainly view us that way in our area,” Staup said of the destination label. “And we are starting to become a destination employer in our region. People take pride in working here. It is super competitive, it is hard to get hired on at OPPD and we should take pride in that. It tells us we are doing something right.”

Core values

Staup said that during the hiring process, OPPD works to find people whose values align with those held by the utility and its employees. OPPD’s core values – a passion to serve, honoring the community and caring about each other – were defined by utility employees.  That “employee value proposition” means new hires know key priorities and goals when they begin working at OPPD, which helps put them on the path to success in their new careers.

That proposition includes seven pillars:

  • Having real impact—on people’s lives, on the environment and on the future of energy
  • Commitment to something big—work that celebrates your drive and determination, strategic thought, and ability to creatively problem-solve
  • Opportunities to use your skills and grow them for personal and professional development
  • Being involved in the community and being the source of real change – by educating, volunteering, reaching out – for this region, the people who live here and the world at large
  • Dedication to diversity and inclusion, which comes to life through providing equal access to information, development and opportunity for all employees
  • Passion about big ideas that evolve out of intentional thinking and long-term goals
  • Some of the state’s most competitive, comprehensive benefits

Staup said that OPPD has areas that are growing, such as work related to digitizing the customer experience and modernizing the electric system to become a utility of the future.

According to benchmarking OPPD does, the utility seems to be faring better than the majority of companies it competes against for similar talent. But there are some areas still of need, such as application and software engineering.

Hiring in a labor shortage

The Omaha area, like many other areas, has “razor-thin unemployment margins.”

“Nebraska has led the nation this year with historic unemployment rates,” said Ana Lopez Shalla, senior director of Workforce Development for the Greater Omaha Chamber. “Your number of job openings versus your folks overall who are looking is a mismatch.”

She said it is a difficult position across the board for employers to be in. Food service, hospitality, health care and, more recently, education are among the areas most impacted. Many companies are offering financial incentives or bonuses to attract and keep talent.

Investing in existing employees – by providing work training, placing more value on work-life balance, and putting a focus on diversity and inclusion efforts – has also helped companies during the labor upheaval.

“OPPD has paid attention to culture development and workforce programming through partnerships to help their workforce reach their full potential. That vision and strategy manifests perfectly at OPPD,” Lopez Shalla said.

Skills and experience

Around OPPD, there are areas that are now more open to hiring people based on skill sets as opposed to credentials, which has not always been the case.

“We have areas in the company now that are willing to back off the need for higher education in favor of talent validation, the process of identifying the actual skills needed to perform the job and designing screening processes that vet out the depth and breadth of expertise with the pre-identified domains,” he said. “The winners in this market are the ones who are finding innovative ways to validate that they have the skills for the job.”

Staup said OPPD has also taken other measures to find the best talent for openings, including:

  • Adjusting marketing strategy and expanding digital reach
  • Leveraging technology as an enabler to facilitate the selection and interviewing process
  • Collaborating across department lines to redesign the onboarding and orientation process and experience
  • Creating crisis leave to support employees and providing a variety of other policies/guidelines to ensure employees are receiving the care needed for their physical and mental well-being
  • Reimagining the experience of events that would traditionally help in-person to accommodate local health policies and the varying levels of consumer confidence throughout the pandemic

For OPPD, using a mixture of measures to find and hire the right people is critical, because no matter what is going on around the service territory, electricity is a vital part of everyone’s lives.

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About Jason Kuiper

Jason Kuiper joined OPPD as a communications specialist in 2015. He is a former staff writer and reporter at the Omaha World-Herald, where he covered a wide range of topics but spent the majority of his career covering crime. He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and has also appeared in several true crime documentary shows. In his free time he enjoys cooking, spending time with his wife and three children, and reading crime novels.

View all posts by Jason Kuiper >

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