A Challenge to Our Industry

Issue 6 and Volume 110.

By David C. Wagman, Managing Editor

Chances are your workplace has been hit. A person affectionately called “older than dirt” retires, raising the question: how do we replace him or her? How do we cover the knowledge lost when that person walks out the door? More broadly, how can we ensure that an adequate pool of young engineers and other well-trained professionals is available to build the next generation of power plant professionals?

To attach a number to the issue, as many as 300,000 utility workers are expected to retire over the next 15 years. That’s fully half of all the utility workers currently employed, according to Thomas Edison State College and PSE&G. The two New Jersey partners earlier this year announced a college-level program in utility technology aimed at next-gen workforce training.

Bill Illing, who’s with the Utilities Service Alliance and deals with workforce issues at nuclear power plants, told me the nuclear industry alone could lose up to one-half of its workforce over the next five to eight years due to retirements. Some highly technical positions can take up to three years for a person to achieve proficiency, says Karen Brower, human relations manager at PG&E’s Diablo Canyon station. If the industry hopes to build a new fleet of nuclear power plants in the next decade, its leaders need to figure out now where the next generation of highly trained plant operators and engineers will come from.

Some schools and colleges are already partnering with power generators to ensure a steady stream continues. In one instance, Bartlett Nuclear, Washington Group International, Idaho Power, Central Virginia Community College and Idaho National Laboratory are working to build educational programs to train future workers.

Recruiting and developing the next generation of power plant professional is one of the toughest issues facing the industry today.

It’s not simply an issue of running want-ads for engineers in the Sunday paper. Developing the workforce means convincing people as young as high school age that power engineering and related trades are a terrific career.

Power Engineering magazine recognizes its obligation to the industry to take a leadership role on the topic of workforce development. As a start, the magazine is launching three initiatives. I encourage you to become involved in each of them.

First, Power Engineering will devote more editorial space to issues related to workforce development. Turn to the back page of this issue and you’ll see the first of what will be a regularly appearing set of articles highlighting some of the best practices and creative thinking in use today. How can you help? Tell us about best practices, successful strategies, out-of-the-box thinking and creative approaches to unusual workforce situations.

Second, over the coming months the Power Engineering Web site will develop an electronic library of workforce-related links and resources. Many excellent resources already exist online. Our goal will be to provide another centralized place for industry professionals to turn for information and support. How can you help? Provide us with links that we can consider adding to our resource library.

Third, Power Engineering is establishing a blue-ribbon panel of industry leaders who will help establish an annual scholarship to be awarded to a college student studying in a power engineering-related field at a U.S. college or university. The goal is to involve the people, companies and institutions who make up the power generation community to support this scholarship, which the magazine will promote and which will be awarded annually at POWER-GEN International. Support can take the form of helping establish the scholarship, helping guide its long-term growth, helping identify partners and programs to recruit as partners, and winning a commitment from your company to contribute outreach dollars to the scholarship. What we invest collectively today will pay off in years to come.

Helping develop the next generation of power industry professionals is vital to all of us. Call me at 918-831-9866 or drop me an email at [email protected] I’ll put you to work on this initiative.