You are here

Building Tomorrow's Smart Grid Workforce Today

May 1, 2012 - 11:22am

Addthis

A student gets hands-on experience in the electric sector during an internship and mentoring program with Northeast Utilities, through ARRA workforce development funding. | Photo courtesy of Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.

A student gets hands-on experience in the electric sector during an internship and mentoring program with Northeast Utilities, through ARRA workforce development funding. | Photo courtesy of Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.

This week, the Energy Department is focusing on recent Administration initiatives to keep college affordable, expand opportunities for American families nationwide, and further education in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math.

Many community colleges, universities, utilities and manufacturers across America are taking smart, pragmatic steps to train the next generation of workers needed to modernize the nation’s electric grid.

Fueled by nearly $100 million in Energy Department Recovery Act funding and supplemented by more than $95 million from project recipients, 54 workforce training projects are creating new training strategies and curricula, and establishing and enhancing workforce training programs. These projects are helping workers understand smart grid concepts and develop skills they’ll need to upgrade the grid, and advance their careers in the energy field.  

Public-private partnerships are critical to these projects’ success. For example, a number of electric sectors have partnered with the Council for Adult & Experiential Learning (CAEL), including Northeast Utilities, American Public Power Association, APS, and PJM Interconnection to identify the skills needed by the evolving workforce.

Based on their input, CAEL is leveraging the Energy Providers Coalition for Education’s model by working closely with Bismarck State College to develop an online curriculum and offer training on a wide range of smart grid topics.  

Under a separate workforce development grant, Bismarck State College’s National Energy Center of Excellence is building a lab that simulates an integrated smart grid environment and helps students understand the impact of implementing the advanced technologies.   

Encouraging teenagers to develop an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is also important. Through the “Light Up Your Future” program, CAEL arranged for a group of high school students from the Academy of Engineering and Green Technology in Hartford, Conn., to get an up-close look at the daily life of utility workers.

During their four-week internship at Northeast Utilities, the students shadowed workers, observing how to climb utility poles and operate heavy equipment. They also enrolled in online industry-based STEM coursework. Student response to the program is enthusiastic, as seen below in excerpts from letters written by several of the students. All of the letters are available on OE’s website.

  • This makes me eager to get straight A+s. The fields involved math and science, so this inspires me to do better. I feel kind of like a new person after this, and it makes me want to do great! – Michael Ashley
  • This school year, I will do things differently like be on time to school, put more effort in every class, and pay more attention in every class.  Four weeks made me think that I can do anything if I put my mind to it. – Carlos Lopez

Promoting excellence in electric power education, sparking more interest in smart grid technologies, and helping workers explore possible career paths are crucial to strengthening the electric grid. In the coming months, we will highlight progress with the other workforce development projects that are supporting the sustained growth of America’s clean energy workforce.     

The Energy Department’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE) Recovery Act recipients estimate that these projects will eventually train about 30,000 Americans for jobs in the electric sector.  As of March 2012, more than 20,000 people have received training.

Deborah Buterbaugh, an energy project specialist at the National Energy Technology Laboratory, contributed to this post. 

Addthis