Last December, I was asked to join US Senator Kay Hagan’s workforce development roundtable meeting in Charlotte, NC. As CEO of PReP Intl and Cofounder of SOS Intl, it seems our perspective focused on Preparing Tomorrow’s Energy Professionals, added something to the serious conversation of putting Americans back to work. We discussed some startling facts:
Ѳ There are 14 million unemployed, almost 12 million underemployed yet 3.3 million job openings go unfilled for months on end,
Ѳ Roughly half of all employers report having a hard time finding qualified workers especially in technical fields.
Ѳ The gap between employer needs and workforce skills is starkest in the critical areas of STEM education, and schools cannot respond with enough graduates in STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Math) related fields.
The President’s Jobs Council on Skills for America’s Future initiative concluded we have a real challenge preparing tomorrow’s workforce to compete in the global economy. In the Energy industry, this poses especially difficult challenges at home, because our Electric power grid and power delivery infrastructures are old.
Old systems have higher failure rates with more interruptions, higher inspection, maintenance, repair and restoration costs affecting reliability, the economy and society. Obsolete system layouts require upgrades, additional substations and rights-of-way that cannot be easily sited. This often forces overuse of existing assets in ways they were not originally intended nor designed for.
Traditional tools and methods for power delivery planning and engineering are less effective in addressing current problems of aged equipment, obsolete system layouts and modern deregulated loading levels. Add smart grid features like variable load shedding schemes, generation sources like wind and solar and you have the makings of a perfect storm.
Mash these issues into the changing cultural values taking place as the power grid continues to evolve from the remnants of the vertically integrated industry it once was to today’s hybrid deregulated industry, and there is a crisis coming in finding and training qualified ready talent to design, engineer and operate it.
While an Energy Technology (ET) Revolution is already here, our power grid issues are made more complex by the policy issues they raise:
Ѳ Making mining and burning coal safer and cleaner than ever before;
Ѳ Finding and safely using our own oil, coal and gas sources;
Ѳ Building new safe nuclear power plants for the 1st time in over 30 years;
Ѳ Getting off dependence on foreign oil and lighting up the world in effective ways;
Ѳ Figuring out how to make electric and hybrid vehicles run longer for less cost/mile;
Ѳ Integrating solar, wind, tides, geothermal, algae, bio mass generation into the power grid;
Ѳ Conserving electricity, water, gas and all natural resources;
Ѳ Producing and using energy in a globally sustainable way.
And while there will be great careers in each of these areas, it is not clear that today’s K-12 system can lay the proper foundation and that our colleges and universities can develop problem solving skills and expertise fast enough to fill the gap once hundreds of experienced industry professionals begin to retire as the economy heats up. Some have predicted “that sucking sound you will hear” as hundreds of experienced utility professionals retire is knowledge walking out the door.
Since 2002, we have trained over 10,000 men and women who run the power grid. In a recent NY Times Article we were mentioned as having developed one effective way to begin to bridge this gap by training veterans, recent college grads and displaced professionals. The industry recognizes that it cannot do it alone. Partnerships between K-12, community colleges, universities, the military and industry will be required to prepare tomorrow’s energy professionals.
Partnerships are not easy to start and often harder to maintain. That is why programs like the TEDxCharlotteED program in Charlotte on March 28th, 2012 are so important. It begins to celebrate the kinds of success that partnerships can bring. As Charlotte leaders explore what is required to become an Energy Capital in this decade, figuring out how our schools, community colleges, universities and energy organizations can partner best will likely provide the only way to bridge this chasm and maybe serve as a model for others. Register for TED here. For more info on PReP Intl, click here or call 704.752.6414.