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Upskilling Power Engineering Workforce: Evolving Skillsets Bring New Opportunities

Oct. 14, 2020
A workforce that understands how the power grid works is foundational to the industry's success.

30 years ago, power engineers had to check on critical assets manually. In its simplest form, if a transformer was humming, it was good. If you walked by a critical asset on fire, obviously something was wrong. The process was reactive. While offline testing techniques existed, many of these tests had long frequencies (3 to 5 years) and were only a simulation of the actual operating environment.

With the onset of digitalization, engineers can now proactively monitor multiple utility sites at once and in real time, see the warning signs of transformer failure, and pinpoint the root cause before sending a technician out to investigate.

Internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) collect and process vast amounts of data daily, putting critical insights at engineers' fingertips, enabling them to predict problems, drive efficiency, control and stabilize power flow, and optimize operations. While this combination of emerging technology and human cognitive skills is immensely powerful, 71% of organizations say the industry still lacks talent with the right mix of digital and domain experience.

Modern power engineering

Today, it's not enough to know what a transformer is, how it works, and how to test it — although those skills are incredibly important. Engineers need to interpret all the data now available to them and apply the insights to solve tangible problems and deliver value for their organizations.

As the skillsets required of power engineers shift, training programs must evolve to take the new work environment into account. As applications for emerging technology grow, it's up to employers to help the workforce expand its capabilities and skillsets to meet the industry's needs today and tomorrow.

Closing skill gaps

Deliberate upskilling can close digital skill gaps. From an employer's perspective, building a mentorship program comprising external and experienced engineers with training credentials is a great way to hone the skillsets of inexperienced staff in specific development areas. These mentors can bring deep expertise in digital competencies — data science and interpretation, analytics, programming — and inside knowledge in traditional aspects of power engineering, which may get lost as seasoned employees retire.

Mentors can collaborate directly with engineers in training and help them develop new skills on the job. The personalized, hands-on approach not only teaches technical know-how and hard skills, but also nurtures soft skills, such as flexibility, teamwork, communication, critical reasoning, and problem solving, required of a modern power engineer.

The value of workforce development platforms can't be overstated — especially as many organizations move to remote work. Making training as easy and intuitive as possible speeds the teaching process, improves learning outcomes, and empowers engineers to take charge of their professional development.

Mobile learning platforms give engineers the flexibility to learn from anywhere and at their own pace. Augmented reality (AR) and immersive learning experiences can train employees virtually on specialized equipment or new technology in a real-world context. With these tools, employers can close specific skills gaps they've identified with targeted development programs.

Take ownership of your career

Being a self-starter is one of the most important traits of a successful power engineer. Identify the skills you need for success not just today but throughout your career, and map out a development plan. If you realize deeper training in statistics or data analytics would elevate performance in your current role or help you move up the ladder, raise it with your boss. If the training program you choose isn't in the budget, hone that skill in your own time. This investment today will pay dividends later.

Attend conferences, virtual events, and network — whether in-person or online — with industry peers. Don't overlook the value of human interactions. The connections you make are just as important as hard skills when it comes to driving your career. If you have a passion for a specific area of engineering or emerging technology, consider developing that interest into a specialty. The need for subject matter experts in these areas is only going to grow as the power industry continues to transform digitally.

Intentional upskilling brings tremendous opportunity for both engineers and their employers. A workforce that deeply understands how the power grid works and can think analytically, interpret data, and apply emerging technology in tangible ways is foundational to our industry's success today and for fueling innovation that will benefit generations to come.

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