Workforce replacement, retention coming to the forefront

For those who might have missed the January issue of Hydro Review magazine, there's a fantastic -- albeit alarming -- study presented by two research associates from Washington State University's Energy Program that details the decline in the Pacific Northwest's electric power workforce.

The report, which surveyed 16 regional electric power employers, revealed that more than 60-percent of the 27,859 employees accounted for in the study are older than 45, and that of those, 17-percent are expected to retire by 2018.

The professions examined include everything from power systems operators to line workers to energy efficiency program managers, and though WSU's study was limited to companies in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Washington, its findings are fairly indicative of what we've been hearing from industry members across the country.

Certainly, finding qualified candidates to replace outgoing members of the workforce is a growing concern, though federal and state interest in hydroelectric power and other renewables is creating even more employee demand.

Indeed, a study commissioned by the National Hydropower Association in 2009 said that under ideal circumstances, as many as 700,000 new jobs could be created through the construction of new hydropower capacity in the United States alone by 2025.

Regardless of the availability of jobs, however, attracting new members to the industry has not always been easy.

The number of issues facing the sector's workforce are certainly numerous and complex, though it seems like they can essentially be boiled down to two key elements: replacement and retention.

Both will be key topics of discussion at HydroVision International 2014, where three sessions devoted entirely to hydro industry workforce issues will feature new industry members and company executives alike.

Included are sessions titled, "Capturing Family Folklore and Tribal Knowledge", "What Went Wrong, and What is the Next Generation to Do About It?" and "Available O&M Tools, Tips and Tricks" -- each of which is geared to address a key workforce issue.

I would also be remiss, howedver, if I didn't also mention the Waterpower Hydro Basics course, which is a comprehensive overview of the industry designed for both industry newcomers and veterans.

To summarize then, the opportunities within hydropower are numerous, and with legislation and attitudes both driving interest in renewable development both here and abroad, those opportunities are only going to increase -- but only if there are those to design, build and operate the projects.

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