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Who Will Replace Hydropower's Aging Work Force?

WIND MEASUREMENTS

  • 02 2011 24
    Many of the men and women running America’s hydropower plants are nearing retirement.

    Every sector of the energy industry is expected to lose a large share of its work force as millions of experienced professionals, baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964, become eligible for retirement over the next several years.   

    Is the hydropower industry prepared to compete with other industries for a new generation of skilled workers? What’s more, does the industry have a plan for training and knowledge sharing?

    A panel of hydropower professionals discussed these worrisome issues this week at the Northwest Hydroelectric Association’s annual conference in Portland, Ore.

    There are about 78 million baby boomers in the U.S. They represent 28 percent of the U.S. population and 68 percent of the existing work force. Bruce Meaker, senior manager of Regulatory Affairs for Snohomish County Public Utility District, put those numbers in perspective.

    “If you do the numbers over a 25-year period, you get 8,500 boomers going out every day,” Meaker said. “That means one every 10 seconds. That’s a lot of retirement parties.”

    About 40 percent of the work force at America’s electric and natural gas utilities will be eligible for retirement in the next five years, Meaker said.

    “Who’s going to replace them?” he asked.   

    Meaker said his company sought to replace an engineer who is retiring in April. Thirty people applied for the position, but only three candidates were qualified for the job. Recruiting qualified workers may be difficult for several reasons, he said.

    Some high-profile celebrities strongly oppose the use of hydropower because of its impact on the environment. Such social stigma could make it difficult to attract new talent. In addition, training opportunities specific to hydropower are sparse.

    But the industry is beginning to form partnerships with universities and other organizations that are designed to tap the nation’s pool of talented younger workers.

    Barbara Hins-Turner, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Center of Excellence for Clean Energy at Centralia College, works with Washington State’s 20 community colleges to find hydropower jobs for graduating students. The program has an 85-percent success rate in placing students in jobs at hydropower facilities throughout the Pacific Northwest, Hins-Turner said. 

    “These are real students placed into real jobs,” she said. Sursa: renewableenergyworld.com