The Electric Power Industry Faces a Drain of Its Most Important Resource — People. More than 50% of the utility workforce is age 45 or older. The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics indicates that 30% or more of the existing utility workforce is or will be eligible for retirement in the next five years.
While experienced power engineers are approaching retirement, alarmingly fewer young people are looking into an education in power system engineering. Only about 500 undergrad degrees are awarded annually in power engineering, compared to nearly 2000 in the 1980s. By 2012, there could be nearly 10,000 more utility industry jobs than workers available to fill them.
What can companies in the power industry do to recruit and retain the experienced electrical engineers that are needed to maintain the reliability and safety of the power grid? They can look to a pool of talent already present in their companies — their own employees. They can marry their business and experience-based education to develop talented employees. They can offer their employees tailored courses from education institutions such as local colleges or universities, courses that go beyond textbook cases and arm employees with the information and skills they need to do their job every day.
PJM Interconnection has spearheaded an education program that focuses on the power industry and is tailored to our corporate needs. When employees spoke out that they wanted support for continuing career development, PJM responded by partnering with Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-area universities to offer accredited degree programs, delivered on PJM's campus and online, that help PJM employees develop their work-related skills.
In addition, PJM belongs to the Energy Providers Coalition for Education (EPCE), a consortium of electric utility companies and associations that provide online education programs targeting the energy industry. Through these types of programs, PJM is committed to lifelong learning and career development. Our education programs fulfill our desire to grow our existing talent, to encourage employees to stay in engineering and to cultivate new electrical engineers.
The on-site/online education programs include:
Master of Science in electrical engineering (MSEE) program with Drexel University. This program gives employees the opportunity to learn updated knowledge and skills within their fields.
Ph.D. in electrical engineering through Drexel University. Employees are encouraged to design a thesis around a topic directly related to their job responsibilities. The program is customized for working adults in the engineering field.
Customized PJM Transformer Program. A series of three graduate-level courses held on PJM's campus prepares employees to enter the Drexel University MSEE program with a focus on power engineering. This program paves the way for employees who have backgrounds in math and science to transform their career to fulfill specific business needs at PJM.
Master of Business Administration program offered through the Pennsylvania State University Great Valley School of Graduate Professional Studies. This program helps students put theory into practice by drawing on their own work experience and working on team projects.
Through EPCE, PJM employees may enter industry-related degree programs delivered online through Bismarck State College and Thomas Edison State College. These instructor-led online programs are accessible 24/7, enabling students to continue their education anytime, anywhere. They offer associate's degrees in electric power technology and bachelor's degrees in energy utility technology and nuclear engineering technology.
Companies and colleges or universities work together to develop people with the skills needed to operate the power grid and plan the grid of tomorrow. Employees can fulfill their potential by enhancing their hands-on skills with the theories and innovative ideas offered by the leaders in education.
Skills learned through education programs — things as simple as working on a group project for class — can improve teamwork in the workplace. Employees who take classes at their companies may find themselves interacting with other people from the company whom they have never met before. This interaction leads to strengthened relationships across the company and develops teamwork, an essential for successful businesses.
Nurturing your home-grown talent can help address the “people drain” in the electric power industry. Education programs offered jointly by you and nearby education institutions can enable your company to provide the best support for employee career development and retention. Employees who take advantage of education programs available to them through work put theory into practice while developing the job capabilities the industry needs to fill as the talent pool shrinks.
Nora Swimm is vice president of business and member services for PJM Interconnection.