Facing the largest gap it’s ever had between the number of customers it serves and the number of employees to serve them, CPS Energy is buckling down to boost its recruiting efforts.

Over the next five years, CPS Energy could lose between 30% to 50% of its 3,000-member workforce, with one out of every two employees becoming eligible to retire by 2026, Chief Administrative Officer Lisa Lewis said — this at a time when the utility’s workforce is already at a 20-year low.

Meanwhile, San Antonio’s population and the number of customers serviced by CPS Energy continues to grow. With this trend unlikely to slow anytime soon, CPS Energy can no longer simply do more with less, Lewis told trustees as part of a larger presentation explaining why the utility needs up to a 10.6% rate increase. Employees account for about half of CPS Energy’s operations budget annually, she said.

Between the need for new positions and to replace the upcoming wave of retirees, CPS Energy must hire more than 1,000 new employees over the next five years, Lewis said. The utility has built these costs into future budgets.

This graph represents the growing CPS Energy customers and overall decrease in employees.
This graph represents the growing CPS Energy customers and overall decrease in employees. Credit: Courtesy / CPS Energy

CPS Energy’s need for employees with a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) background is growing, as technology in the energy sector advances, Lewis said. In addition to hiring more STEM workers, CPS Energy may also need to re-train current employees to keep up, she said.

“STEM workers — like engineers, grid operators, cybersecurity specialists, and many others — are becoming harder to fill in the post-pandemic labor environment,” Lewis told trustees last month. “Pay is rising quickly with the demand; … a new college graduate engineer that we could hire in 2019 for $67,000 a year is now turning down our offers because they can get a job for $85,000 a year plus a signing bonus as a brand new graduate.”

CPS Energy is estimating it will need to hire about 100 engineers; 300 utility workers such as journeymen, warehouse operations, and vehicle maintenance employees; 250 customer support professionals; 50 or more IT and cybersecurity specialists; and 50 or more accountants, business and financial analysts, and auditors, said CPS Energy Spokeswoman Dana Sotoodeh.

It also needs to fill dozens more support function positions, including environmental controls, regulatory compliance, purchasing and logistics, human resources, and facilities management, she said.

Tom Tunstall, senior research director of the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Institute for Economic Development, confirmed that wages are rising for in-demand workers. Over the last year and a half, the economy has been changing, with the pandemic acting as a catalyst for workers to demand better wages, benefits, and conditions, he said.

To fill their growing employment demands as Baby Boomers continue to retire, private and public companies will need to adjust by offering higher wages, better work-life balance, and a higher quality of life, Tunstall said.

While Millennials and Generation Z are demanding these benefits, offering bonuses to retirement-age employees to stay on a bit longer could also help with retention, giving companies like CPS Energy more time to recruit new talent, Tunstall said.

CPS Energy Board of Trustees Vice Chair Janie Gonzalez said retention should definitely be a priority since these are skilled workers with years of knowledge. The next priority should be retraining, Gonzalez said; CPS Energy should put efforts into retraining current staff members to do more advanced jobs.

With technology changing how utilities function, CPS Energy should then focus its recruiting efforts on hiring for “the jobs of tomorrow,” Gonzalez said, such as solar energy technicians, and other clean energy jobs.

The utility is bolstering its recruiting efforts by working with local universities, recruiting through its call center, offering new internship programs, and working to offer competitive pay, Lewis said.

CPS Energy also uses its pension program as a recruitment and retention tool, she said. The utility offers a competitive pension program for employees, Lewis said. The pension is one of the utility’s “best retention tools,” especially for people in craft positions like journeyman or electrician, Lewis said.

While the increasing number of retirees will mean higher pension payouts in the coming years, Lewis told the San Antonio Report she is not as concerned about employees retiring as she is about “getting their replacements in the door.”

“Going forward, we need to improve our [wages], we need to be able to compete to get those young graduating students to join us,” Lewis said.

Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett is the general assignment reporter for the San Antonio Report.