Steven Brown, editor in chief
Much magazine ink has been spilled and many conference hours devoted the last few years to lamenting the problem of the “aging utilities workforce.” Industry forecasts have indicated that approximately half the energy industry workforce will likely retire within the next 15 years.
But it’s time to stop belaboring the problem and start looking for solutions. The demand for talent at all levels of the utility industry is high. It’s time for the market (including industry associations, academia and the utility companies themselves) to take steps to bolster the supply of workers to meet that demand.
Universities are beginning to do their part. In this issue, you’ll read about the revitalization of one of the United States’ most heralded power engineering programs at the University of Pittsburgh. Besides new coursework in engineering, Pitt is also working with Pittsburgh-area power-related companies to place graduates in the workforce.
Pitt isn’t alone: Earlier this year, The Energy Providers Coalition for Education (EPCE) partnered with Thomas Edison State College to offer what it says is the nation’s first online bachelor of science in applied science and technology degree in energy utility technology. The program was designed to prepare new workers to enter the industry and enable existing workers to advance their careers. The coursework for the energy utility technology degree is offered entirely online, which allows students to pursue their degree as their schedules allow, while balancing a full-time job and family life.
Industry associations must also play a part in stopping the utility industry “brain drain.” In mid-July, the Midwest Energy Association’s (MEA) board of directors announced that a new Workforce Development Council (WDC) would be formed within the association to help its members recruit, develop, retain and maintain the health of their workforce. MEA’s Workforce Council will have four teams: technical skills development, organizational development, workforce health & benefits, and recruiting. Among other duties, the teams are responsible for the $5 million training library at www.energyu.org, a low-cost online training portal for energy companies.
Some of the current shortage of talent among utilities can probably be attributed to workers leaving utility jobs for higher-paying positions with consulting firms and technology vendors. At least one consulting company, however, is working to keep utilities stocked with personnel.
In mid-June, Black & Veatch launched a service designed to tackle the aging workforce challenge. The company’s enterprise management solutions consulting division (EMS) has partnered with executive recruiting firm Mycoff, Fry & Prouse in offering a “management succession planning service.” Already, the new service from Black & Veatch has been successful in assisting a California utility in resolving its immediate need for a principal engineer and is in the process of developing a comprehensive succession plan for the utility.
These are just a few examples of how academia and industry are working together to combat the aging workforce challenge. We’ve defined the problem (ad nauseam); now let’s get to work on the solution.