How Will We Fill the Employment Gap?

By Anna Simet | November 22, 2013

Last year, as I attended the Electricity Generation Conference in Bismarck, N.D., I found myself in a conversation about the power industry’s concerns with the aging workforce and the lack of young people interested in/qualified to replace it.

Yesterday, I was reminded of this conversation when I came across a very interesting infographic, compliments of New Jersey’s Science and Technology University. It demonstrated the employment crisis the power industry will be facing as skilled workers reach retirement age, and the lack of enrolled students and graduates to replace them.

Here are some facts it pointed out:

*About 100,000 workers will need to be replaced by 2015.

*The median age of the workforce is 50 right now

*52 percent of skilled engineers and technicians will need to be replaced within the next 10 years

*38 percent of workers in the electric power industry will be eligible to retire in the next five years.

*56 percent of the national grid’s engineers are at least 45 years old.

Now, let’s take a look at what’s in the pipeline for future workers. According to NJSTU, the number of electrical engineer graduates has slowly gone up—about 5,600 in 2005 and increasing to nearly 6,700 in 2011, and though not significant, that’s a good thing.

What isn’t so good is that the number of students enrolled in engineering programs has decreased by an alarming rate—about 28,000 in 2022, compared to 16,600 in 2011. That’s a 40 percent decrease, and electricity demands are definitely not going down with that number (in fact, they are projected to increase significantly).

So what should and can we do about this? The infographic points out that companies like GE are offering higher salaries, which is great, but they will undoubtedly have no choice to do that if there’s a competition over retaining the employees they need.

We could also develop new training programs, sponsor student organizations focused on the energy industry, and, perhaps most significant, we need to start a national campaign to improve the industry’s image and attract young people—get them excited, let them know that when they graduate, there will most definitely be a job waiting for them.

This issue is relevant to the entire power sector, renewables included. As NJSTU points out, by 2030, shares of renewable in U.S. power generation is expected to grow by 27 percent with capacity increasing by 420 percent and reaping investments of $700 billion.

The bottom line is that the clock is ticking. The entire power industry needs to put forth an effort, a major campaign, to reignite interest in this sector, or it may find itself in an employment crisis