Consultant Carlos Torres (at far right) speaks to points of contact for the lead agencies restoring power in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Taking the Next Step in Your Utility Career

June 10, 2024
If you’re considering a consulting career after retirement, here’s what you should know.

Utility professionals who are looking to work as consultants or trade allies after retiring should start planning now, according to several former executives who have made the transition successfully. They have opportunities in their current roles to get the training and credentials that will help position them for the future, and to network with other utility professionals to learn what to look for in potential partners and clients, including pitfalls to avoid.

According to recent data, ample post-retirement work opportunities are available. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that people aged 55 years old and over are expected to become a larger part of the workforce over the next decade, and the Center for Energy Workforce development says the utility industry will need to replace some 44,000 lineworkers, technicians, plant and field operators and engineers over the next five years. Consultants and contractors have been filling the gap. But retirees, in particular, bring a unique set of experiences and skills; they understand the utility culture and how the companies operate and are able to deliver immediate value.

Preparation is Key

For example, Anthony Hurley began working as a consultant in 2017, after retiring as vice president of operations for FirstEnergy’s Jersey Central Power & Light. He readied himself for a post-retirement career by establishing a “60-month flight plan,” during which he obtained a number of professional certifications in the areas that supported his job and where he would eventually focus as a consultant. Philip Wright, who retired as vice president of distribution operations for Appalachian Power in 2020, took a similar approach. His advice is to “have a good plan for what you want to focus on,” which he followed by taking expert witness classes. In addition to utility and contractor consulting, he now provides expert regulatory and litigation support through his firm.

According to Hurley, “the doors are open for you to take training as a utility or municipal employee,” but you can encounter obstacles after becoming “just another retired person.” In addition, as a consultant, it’s important to be available and not have scheduling conflicts because of having to attend classes. As he found, “One of the first assignments I had was a deployment.”

Beyond education and training, utility professionals would benefit from networking, including with contractors they know, to better understand the playing field and what it takes to make the transition. Current retirees say it’s a good practice to get professional financial and legal advice, but also to take stock of the business skills utility leaders develop over the course of their careers. Even then, Hurley notes, “I wasn’t afraid to get a couple of mentors.”

Finding the Right Fit

Another priority is to identify clients and contractors who are a good fit, including in terms of operating style and values. In many cases, these turn out to be companies that have similar cultures to where the retiree previously worked, and contracting firms that are run just like their utility clients. A key test for these firms is determining whether they already work with retirees, and then reaching out to ask about their experiences.

At the same time, it’s important for future retirees to identify opportunities that fit the lifestyle they plan to pursue. Said Wright, “This was a passion of mine to do some other work I 
wanted to take on and do it at my own pace.”

Carlos Torres, who retired as vice president of emergency preparedness and business resilience from Consolidated Edison in 2017, saw consulting as a chance to expand his horizons and have a greater impact on the industry. He built on the reputation he had already established when the governor of Puerto Rico appointed him the overall incident commander for the power restoration effort after Hurricane Maria hit the island. This followed the upfront work he and others had done to evaluate the hurricane’s impact on Puerto Rico’s electric system. Just prior to taking on that effort, he even participated in an initial industry conference call during his retirement party. Though challenging, that situation aligned with what Torres had hoped to accomplish: “Sharing your experiences and knowledge to help other companies is the exact formula I had when I decided to retire.”

Beware Potential Pitfalls

In transitioning to consulting, it’s critical that retirees define and stick to their operating standards, including understanding the value of their experience and being compensated appropriately. However, issues arise beyond compensation, such as working with clients and contractors who are upfront during negotiations, and are hiring the consultant for substantive work, and not just to use their resumes. Cautions Hurley, “Make sure their ethics are in the right place and, from a moral perspective, that you’re being assigned the job you were hired to do.”

In the case of contractors, one important watch-out is when the consultant or sub-contractor will be paid; some contracting firms wait until they receive payment from their utility clients.

According to current retirees, a good practice is to conduct due diligence on potential clients and contracting firms by searching for news coverage, lawsuits or financial issues (such as liens), and asking questions.

While pursuing a consulting career after retirement isn’t for everyone, Hurley quips that he could “only fish so much and I’m absolutely terrible at golf.” More than that, each of the utility consultants interviewed agreed that it is worthwhile work. For Torres, the opportunity to impart knowledge makes the critical difference because, “As a team, no one of us is as smart as all of us, and the happiness you get from being part of a team that accomplishes great things is very fulfilling.”

About the Author

Mike Zappone

Mike Zappone is chief operations officer for Tempest Utility Consulting (TUC), which helps utilities efficiently manage key aspects of their operations, including project and safety programs, construction and field services and emergency storm support. TUC is part of the Tempest family of companies. 

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