By Dr. Gregory F. Reed, senior vice president, Power & Energy SystemsKEMA Inc. and adjunct professor, Swanson School of Engineering, University of Pittsburgh
By now, everyone in the power and energy industries is acutely aware of the issues and challenges that we face with a rapidly aging workforce. These range from a lack of new and sufficient technical engineering talent to various aspects of knowledge transfer and retained expertise.
This column highlights two independent, yet complimentary initiatives that are providing relevant and proactive solutions to the industry challenges ahead: a new education and research initiative in power and energy engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering driven by industry collaboration; and a new operations, planning and knowledge management service developed by KEMA Inc. in partnership with Google.
These initiatives serve various needs of the industry, from the front end need of educating a “new generation” of power and energy engineering professionals, to the back end of knowledge management and retention of key technical expertise. They both also highlight the aspect of “collaboration” in dealing with the aging workforce and knowledge capture issuesin both cases, strong collaborative efforts between and among industry and/or academia have brought innovation and creativity to the forefront of solutions.
Pitt’s Power & Energy Initiative
The Swanson School of Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh has launched a proactive approach to addressing the problems caused by an aging workforce, infrastructure degradation and technology development deficiencies. Entitled the Power & Energy Initiative, this includes the development of new curricula and research projects in electric power, nuclear and mining engineering in close collaboration with regional industry leaders such as Westinghouse, CONSOL Energy and Eaton Corp. At this point, the School has developed and is offering introductory courses in each of the three major power and energy disciplines identified. Initial funding is in place to introduce new courses in each area, leading to a concentration or certificate designation at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Enrollment for the electric power engineering courses has been high, with strong interest from students in not only undergraduate course offerings, but also significant increases in class sizes for graduate course offerings. In addition, new applications for graduate program enrollment have shown a high level of interest in electric power engineering curriculum and research. The response from industry in placing new graduates from Pitt has been equally impressive. In the Pittsburgh area as well as nationally and internationally, students are finding tremendous opportunities in all sectors of the power and energy fields and are entering the workforce with a strong technical background and deep understanding of the various global issues related to power, energy, sustainability and the environment. The Pitt initiative is emerging as national model for a modernized education and research program in power and energy engineering, through the strong industry collaboration and support.
Operations and Planning Knowledge Tools
With the U.S. Department of Labor estimating that as much as 50 percent of the nation’s utility workforce (from engineers to technicians to line workers) will retire in the next five to 10 years, the challenges associated with replacing the technical and institutional knowledge of these professionals will be immense. The potential impact on day-to-day utility operations of this knowledge transfer will be significant. Decisive actions are needed in the near-term and before retirements or transfers to preserve utility intellectual property for the future.
Working as a Google Enterprise Partner, KEMA has developed a service to capture critical information and organize knowledge content of departing utility employees, so that new employees can continue to deliver sustainable, reliable and profitable energy and services.
KEMA’s operations and planning knowledge tools and solutions help utilities in various ways, including effectively capturing expertise before retirements or transfers; maximizing the use of existing systems and databases; allowing for the use of state-of-the-art, third-party supporting products to enable and implement intelligent searches, including Google products; providing computer-based self-training learning tools; empowering employees, strengthening the enterprise and improving employee productivity through immediate access to expertise that precisely satisfies work needs; and by providing structure for protecting company intellectual property. As institutional knowledge is preserved, organizations benefit in everything from day-to-day operations to employee training.
As the University of Pittsburgh and KEMA continue to play independent roles in providing energy workforce solutions through these distinct, yet complimentary, approaches they become synergistic with other efforts that are also taking place, such as the National Science Foundation-sponsored Future Power Engineering Workforce initiative and activities sponsored by the IEEE Power & Energy Society. Such regional and national efforts are needed as we continue to forge ahead in dealing with industry workforce issues, and more importantly, with creating innovative solutions.