Weather events, emergencies and an ongoing demand for workers in the energy market are a certainty. In this sector, however, uncertainty still remains. In this low-unemployment environment, will there be a large enough workforce to deploy, operate and execute the newest technologies in the energy industry?
The answer lies in diversity and in untapped labor sectors, according to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) 2017 update of Transforming the Nation’s Electricity Sector: The Second Installment of the QER.
The job forecast for electrical power-line installers and repairers is projected to grow 14 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. The Department of Labor (DOL) attributes this growth to an increasing population, expansion of U.S. cities and the escalation of high-technology demand on the power grid.
Offering Training Programs
To meet this demand, technical schools are expanding their utility specialized training. The Northwest Lineman College, which opened its doors in 1993, has expanded with four locations nationwide. Pierpont Community and Technical College sponsors a Certificate Degree Program and an Associate of Applied Science Degree Program in Petroleum Technology designed to prepare students for employment in the oil and gas industry. West Virginia University (WVU) offers similar programs in Energy Land Management (BS) and Environmental & Energy Resources Management (BS). These programs provide education and training and help develop skill-sets applicable to jobs in the energy sector.
“These programs also introduce skills and careers to women who may not have thought about jobs in the energy and STEM-related fields,” said Jessica Shuey, an engineer and operations manager for Keystone Consultants, Inc. an energy and telecommunications consulting firm.
Recruiting the Next Generation
For the energy sector, its challenges are also its opportunities. Evolution within the industry is creating new workforce possibilities, including jobs in renewable energy, natural gas and information and communications technology (ICT), according to the DOE report. Younger employees today have considerable experience with technology, and they understand how to use it to communicate. Leaders in the energy sector are harnessing this technological expertise by recruiting young people to help meet technology changes head-on.
“New employee recruitment and marketing is no longer achieved by newspapers and billboards, but by digital promotion and social media. I have been working with my company to help them move forward with marketing techniques using Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube,” Shuey says. “Engaging the energy industry in the 'clickable' world of communication will help to attract potential talent, promote organizations and the industry as a whole.”
Diversifying the Workforce
Women and minorities are energizing this market and infusing it with a new stream of talent. PLH Group, Inc., a power line and pipeline construction contractor, is already doing just that. PLH Group has C-Suite women at the helm like Elsie Bentley, who was named as the new vice president of safety, health and environmental and two subsidiaries with women in senior safety positions, Sherri Torrillo at RB Hinkle and Cathy Orth at TTR Substations. In addition, two PLH Group subsidiaries have female presidents, Dina Holstead of RB Hinkle and Sunita Khorana of Air2, LLC.
“Female participation in construction safety training is very low, but it is changing. Typically, there is one female in every safety training class. However, recently we had three in a class of 25 participants,” says Carla Housh, executive director for Utility and Safety Ops Leadership Network.
Women in the energy industry are pro-active in reaching out to recruit women. For example, Women in Mining (WIM) teaches about the mining industry and pulls more and more women into related jobs. Open to both women and men, WIM members include engineers, geologists, land men, secretaries, lobbyists, mine workers, educators and concerned citizens, who are business and civic leaders extending their influence and expertise into their local communities. The Women’s Energy Network (WEN) is an international organization devoted to creating programs that provide networking opportunities, mentorship and foster career and leadership development for women in the field. And Energetic Women, an organization that promotes and supports women in the natural gas and utility field, provides networking opportunities and new ways to join the movement of women working in the energy market.
“These educational and networking opportunities are vital. They help women believe that a career in the energy and utility field is possible, not beyond their reach, and that they can be successful in a previously male-dominated field,” Shuey says.
Recruiting the Miltary into the Trade
In addition, a community of veteran and military-oriented professionals also possess many skills, which are desirable in construction and energy. They come highly-trained, are used to authority, punctual and embrace their jobs like a mission. Xcel Energy in Denver, Colorado, is already taking this tack and actively recruiting from the military sector.
While uncertainty persists in the weather patterns and global demand today, solutions are to be found in the young and tech-savvy, women and technical schools, and in the veteran and military segments, giving us some certainty there will be enough "energized" people ready to meet the demands of the power grid of tomorrow.