As students across the Carolinas graduate this year, there is an industry that has open arms for them: The electric industry.
An additional 1.5 million power industry workers will be needed nationwide in years to come, on top of the roughly one million now. “New technologies are changing the skill sets in demand in the electricity workforce, creating opportunities that include utility management positions for smart grid programs, meter installers and service providers, intelligent transmission and distribution automation device producers, communications system products and services providers, and software system providers and integrators.” (Source)
Workforce shortages are serious. “That gap between employer needs and workforce skills threatens companies’ current operations as well as their future capacity since a shortage of skilled workers means fewer candidates to move up the career ladder as middle and upper management baby boomers retire.” (Source)
Industry and educators are appealing to new entrants into the workforce. “We have a pipeline of talent available, but we need to continue building awareness of the job opportunities that exist, particularly in the rural areas served by our state’s electric cooperatives,” said Lisa Crawley, spokesperson for North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives.
Solving the shortage is a hands-on business. “Experiential and real-world learning are key to preparing the next generation of workers, which is why North Carolina’s electric co-ops invest in a broad range of initiatives – from education grants and professional development opportunities to internships and college scholarships – that help ensure we have the future workforce we need to support the success of cooperative members and communities,” says Crawley.
Industry growth is one reason for more workers. Another is demographics. A significant percentage of workers are eligible to retire each year. (Check the graph.)
Work in the power industry is changing. CIO [Chief Information Officer] magazine says: A Next Generation Grid Will Need Input and Participation From the Next Generation. “This generation will very likely create a grid that looks very different than the one that exists today.” The author says it is a chance for to build “something larger than yourself.”
An advanced energy system, with advanced thinkers, is the goal. “Larger than yourself,” is the operative phrase. A study by the Illinois Institute of Technology said, “The convergence of telecommunications systems, information technology, and electrical system operations will demand combined and blended skill sets for front‐line employees, technicians, operators, and engineers. The integration and blending of these skill sets will create new field and operations roles and responsibilities.”
North and South Carolina have the kinds of companies and educational institutions that can can be the center of the electric energy industry – business, research, training, policy – if people work together. It is a real opportunity for new graduates and citizens.