The energy industry suffers from an aging workforce, where 40% of the engineers and 60% of the executives will retire in the next five years. John McDonald and GE are doing several things to help remedy that situation, but one of the most beneficial to young people has to be GE’s involvement in the Boy Scouts of America’s Explorer Post program.
The Explorer Post is a way for high school boys and girls to learn about potential careers. GE features an Explorer Post on energy that covers engineering, project management, career preparation, marketing and more. Youth speak with GE workers and learn what it takes to work in each area of the business that is covered. They have the opportunity to ask questions of actual GE employees, take tours of facilities and departments, and do hands-on activities each month.
“This program is an effective way to connect with and influence high school age kids that the energy industry is ‘cool’ - and that when they go to college to study electrical engineering and focus in power and energy,” said McDonald, director of technical strategy and policy development for GE Energy Management’s Digital Energy business. “By going through our program they are more intelligent about the work we do, the technology we develop, the career opportunities there are, etc., which will help them in their own academic and career planning and with interviewing.”
John McDonald was a Cub Scout Den Leader when his son, who is 30 years old now, was in elementary school. McDonald took the nine boys from the Cub Scout Den into Boy Scouts in middle school. Both McDonald and his son, Mark, who worked for GE’s Energy Consulting group in Schenectady, New York, are Eagle Scouts.
Recently, the Atlanta Area Council Boy Scouts of America (AAC BSA) asked McDonald to be on the Board of Directors where he learned about the Explorer program. There are more than 50 different Explorer Posts in the Atlanta area - all with different career focus areas. So he spent a year identifying other GE staff in Atlanta who were involved with Scouting, and asked them to help him establish this new GE Explorer Post on energy.
“We spent 2012-2013 with planning. Our first year was the 2013-2014 school year. We planned to have around 20 kids the first year and there was tremendous interest - we had 30 boys and girls that first year,” McDonald said.
McDonald has a core group of four GE staff, which is supported by the Boy Scout staff, to run the monthly meetings (90 minutes each) from September through May. McDonald mentors many young professionals at GE and has been reverse-mentored by a young professional for over two years.
“It is important for me to use my 40+ years of full-time work experience to help young professionals. I want to influence as many young kids as I can to be interested in the energy field for a career,” McDonald said. “When I received the 2010 GE Energy Services Leadership Award in January 2011, I received $10K to donate to charities of my choice. I donated $5K to the Atlanta Area Council Boy Scouts of America. The Scouting program teaches kids the right things regarding skills and life in general.”
McDonald was one of 22 leaders who received the Energy Services Award that recognizes those who go above and beyond to deliver for GE’s customers, shareholders, and employees.
The GE Explorer Post on energy includes sessions on history of electricity, some aspects of smart grid, project management, 3-D printing, generator monitoring and diagnostics, and marketing. One session features a fun quiz competition, and in the 3-D printing session, they “print” a GE Aviation jet engine part. The kids also tour certain facilities and participate in a holiday party and graduation celebration.
“The goal is for the kids to receive exposure to a career in energy - what types of jobs there are, what technology is developed, how the technology is used, etc.,” McDonald said.
The program’s goal seems to have worked for one Scout: Kimani Selby’s mother told the AAC BSA CEO Tracy Techau that she was very impressed and grateful for the opportunity for her son. As a result of the Post, Kimani is thinking he would like to go into a career related to electrical engineering.
McDonald counts it all worth it; he enjoys connecting with the kids and their parents to help them with their child's academic and future career choices.