Your troops require basic training

Ernie Strauss, Georgia Power Co. & Jim Foster, Cooper Power Systems

Practical knowledge has historically been acquired through on-the-job-experience-by performing workday tasks and learning from others. For decades, electric utilities relied on this type of knowledge transfer to keep engineering departments running smoothly despite personnel changes.

This system became seriously disrupted in the mid-80s. As utilities prepared for deregulation, hundreds of years of experience were lost due to company-encouraged early retirements.

Compounding the negative effects of these personnel decisions is the current operating environment at most utilities. Functions are minimally staffed. Engineers struggle to keep up with new requirements. It’s difficult to accumulate the experience required for mature and dependable performance.

These restrictions are occurring at a time when technology is exploding. Computers, power electronics, communications, and distribution automation offer utilities operating-efficiency improvements, but only if engineers are properly trained.

When utilities need engineering help, they often hire recent college graduates or transfer staff. These employees have not had time to acquire much practical experience. Yet, these same engineers are responsible for projects involving hundreds of thousands of customers and millions of dollars.

Therefore, it is crucial that engineers be given practical, experience-based training to help them quickly understand technologies. This is essential in an era of deregulation and competition in the electric utility industry.

Certification program:

Southern Company has implemented the Power Delivery Certification Program (PDCP) as a way to raise engineering expertise through a series of in-house training courses. PDCP is a voluntary development process that recognizes individual proficiency in distribution and transmission engineering.

PDCP establishes standards of job experience, technical knowledge, and job skills. Technical knowledge is demonstrated by completing required coursework and passing final exams.

Four certification levels are defined and course selection assures progressive development. Lower-level courses are broad in scope; higher-level courses more specialized.

Skill assessments are conducted by an assessment committee selected by the participant and made up of a minimum of five individuals, including the participant’s supervisor or second-level manager, two peers from outside the department, and two peers from inside the department. Each committee member provides a written, independent, confidential and anonymous assessment of the participant’s skills.

For each area, the participant is judged as having a strength, being competent, or needing improvement. An average or better score in each area must be achieved to advance to the next level.

Level 1

A candidate must show a proficiency in basic overhead and underground distribution design, use basic systems such as automated drafting and understand company procedures.

Training requirements incorporate system operations, overhead and underground distribution design, and power quality. Assessment areas include communication skills, teamwork, and business ethics.

Level 2

A candidate must have completed Level 1 certification and have five-plus years of experience. The candidate must be proficient in distribution system design, including three-phase systems, coordination and protection, and have experience operating the distribution system, including writing switching orders and handling on-call situations. The candidate must show a working knowledge of specifications and standards.

Training requirements include distribution reliability, voltage regulation, overcurrent and overvoltage protection, metering, outdoor lighting, and project management. Assessment involves negotiating, communication, and problem solving skills.

Level 3

A candidate must have completed Level 2 certification and have 10-plus years of experience. The participant must show proficiency in distribution system planning and analysis techniques, display a professional image, leadership ability and the ability to teach in one area of certification, and understand the issues of competition.

Training requirement for Level 3 include capacitor and transformer application, best practices review, motor fundamentals, capital budgeting, root cause analysis, and utility finance.

Level 4

A candidate must have at least 15 years of experience and be recognized as a company-wide technical resource. A candidate can gain specialist certification in more than one area, such as distribution protection or power quality.

The Southern Company’s Power Delivery Certification Process (PDCP) is a comprehensive, ongoing practical training program. It builds engineering skills for successfully competing in a deregulated business environment. PDCP recognizes engineering proficiency and provides a structured path for continued professional development.

For more information on the Power Delivery Certification Program please contact Ernie Strauss at (770) 808-3458 or Jim

Foster at (262) 835-1588.

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