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Restoring the Aging Work Force in the Power Industry

The generation gap between the Baby Boomers and today’s recent graduates has been a concern for some time now. Studies conducted five years ago have predicted outcomes of the power industry workforce for the present-day that were not only accurate, but not very promising. The Center for Energy Workforce Development suggested in a study that roughly 46% of all engineering jobs will be vacant in 2012. The same study concluded that national energy consumption in the United States could increase by 40% in 2030. As early as 1997, the information technology industry claimed that it could not find enough workers to meet demand and successfully lobbied for more temporary H-1B visas for temporary technology workers to be recruited from foreign countries. Could this become the norm for the power industry? What’s even worse, the Nuclear Energy Institute predicts that up to 120,000 to 160,000 workers will be needed by 2013 to fill the gap in the electricity sector. These figures pose an alarming demand for engineers to deliver the work needed to sustain our nations’ energy requirements.

The gap between generations isn’t the only issue at hand. In 2007, Lockheed Martin Corporation chairman Norman R. Augustine, published a report titled, “Falling off the Flat Earth.” This report gathered evidence that the United States was failing to produce enough technology workers. He continued to note that Asia graduated 636,000 new engineers in 2002, compared with only 68,600 in the U.S. He also noted an 18 percent decline in the U.S. in engineering, math, physical and geoscience bachelor’s degrees during the previous two decades and pointed out a 40 percent decline in the proportion of students studying these subjects. According to Augustine’s report, by 2006, the United States ranked 17th in the percentage of university science and engineering graduates- down from third, 30 years before.

Prospective engineers and young graduates complain that companies who have had engineers working for the same company for decades, have unrealistic expectations of them coming into the work force. The age gap and high standards for employment isn’t just an occurrence in the United States- it seems to be happening worldwide. As companies are seeing their well-seasoned engineers beginning to retire, they seem to have impractical expectations for freshly graduated students with little to no industry experience. In fact, companies have been known to increase health benefits as an incentive for the older generation of engineers as an incentive to work for them longer. In an abstract titled, “Readjusting the current trend in Electrical Power Engineering” written by several electrical engineering faculty members of the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, it is apparent the trend is quite similar overseas. They reinforce this thought through their suggestion that there’s an observable discrepancy between the required education programs for electrical power engineering and the desires of the industry.

An article appearing in the Protection & Control Journal written by two industry professionals entitled, “Replenishing the Aging Work Force in the Power Industry” also addresses the concerns of the power industry that the current trend will soon result in a shortage of qualified personnel to maintain the well-being of the business. They suggest a possible solution in first making the power industry visible as a valuable and long-term career choice to current students and new graduates. In turn, they encourage professionals to take on younger engineers for internships or co-op’s so that they may closely work with the more advanced engineers within the company to gain valuable experience.

Power Grid Engineering, LLC (PGE) certainly acknowledges the large age gap between experienced workers and those in line to take their place. Michael Wright, Co-Owner and President of PGE states, “One way that PGE will be helping meet the demand for new talent will be by creating that talent in-house with recent graduates who have a desire to be in the power industry and who show great potential at learning and being a part of our client focused team.”