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Diane Pivirotto: Energy jobs key to the future

Published By: Connecticut Post
Diane Pivirotto: Energy jobs key to the future

Connecticut has a unique opportunity to rekindle its momentum toward job growth and economic leadership in the Northeast.

In October, Gov. Dannel Malloy unveiled a new draft comprehensive energy strategy that promises to promote energy efficiency and facilitate access to clean-burning natural gas for 275,000 more Connecticut residents by 2020. The strategy suggests the initiatives are expected to create 10,000 jobs or more.

This is a wonderful opportunity for Connecticut. But in order to fully capitalize on it, we must have a ready work force with the skills and education we’ll need to thrive as energy leaders.

There is no better time to consider an energy career. Work force development is a concern in any industry, but it’s particularly pressing among energy companies.

In the coming years, large percentages of experienced workers — including many here at UIL Holdings and its utilities — are expected to retire. The weak economy has caused many workers to temporarily postpone retirement and career changes, but that only adds to the mounting crunch we expect in the near future.

How big is the challenge? The Center for Energy Workforce Development, a consortium of U.S. energy companies and associations, found in its 2011 survey that nearly 62 percent of employees in the energy industry have the potential to retire or leave for other reasons over the next decade. Moreover, our energy work force continues to age: The survey found that the average age of the energy work force has increased to 46.1, while the number of employees age 53 and above has increased by 5 percent.

Meanwhile, demand for certain energy job categories remained strong. For example, the number of engineers employed in the industry rose 3.6 percent between 2009 and 2011, the survey found.

The company where I work, UIL Holdings Corp., works to meet these challenges in partnership with organizations such as Connecticut Energy Workforce Development Consortium. We employ a variety of strategies, such as identifying specific shortage areas — engineers and project managers, for example — and developing best practices for attracting, training and retaining employees.

UIL and its subsidiaries, The United Illuminating Co., The Southern Connecticut Gas Co., Connecticut Natural Gas Corp. and Berkshire Gas Co., also work with partners in academia, government and industry to provide opportunities for future energy workers.

We offer internships, scholarships, mentoring programs and educational outreach efforts designed to attract and hold on to future energy employees and leaders. We’re proud that our partner, INROADS, Inc., which provides internship opportunities to underserved youth in business and industry, chose The United Illuminating Co. for its 2012 Conversion Award for providing regular jobs to former interns placed at UI.

There’s more work to be done, and it starts in the schools. If Connecticut is to thrive as an energy leader, we must make sure our children start with a solid grounding in math and science in the primary and secondary schools. We must continue to invest in our vocational and technical schools, too, and ensure that they are producing graduates with the skills and knowledge that are most in demand. Finally, we must ensure that our community colleges and publicly-funded universities have robust programs in high-demand fields such as engineering.

In closing, we at UIL encourage everyone to think of the jobs and opportunities the energy industry has the potential to create for tomorrow’s line workers, pipe fitters, technicians and engineers. Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, a state representative or just a civic-minded voter, you can play a role in steering today’s youth toward tomorrow’s energy future.

For more information, including detailed information on energy career paths, visit the Center for Energy Workforce Development’s Get Into Energy website at .

Diane Pivirotto is vice president for human resources, compliance and administration with UIL Holdings Corporation.

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