During the course of the past decade, considerable discussions and studies have centered on the future of the power industry in coming to grips with the changing nature of its workforce. The challenges faced by the industry include changes in demographics, attrition, knowledge management, impact of technology, growth in economies of developing countries and globalization.
Since a knowledgeable, experienced and skilled workforce is essential to the success of improving and maximizing the capacity, availability, reliability and performance of generating power plant assets, workforce issues are increasingly garnering the attention of power plant owners.
This article discusses the changing nature of the power industry and the workforce and various measures that are being taken to address workforce and training issues.
Changing nature of the power industry
During the 1970s, the power industry was unregulated and was able to spend adequate sums of money hiring, training and retaining technical personnel. The
Following deregulation of the power industry in the early 1990s, the landscape started to change.
There was a paradigm shift to doing more with less, and competition resulted in several consolidations of ownership. Also, with the advent of the Internet and technology innovations, the power industry no longer held the same allure for prospective entrants into the industry.
As shown in Figure 1, per the Annual Energy Outlook 2011 of the U. S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the dominant fuel to generate electricity will be coal due to the continued dependency and large reserves. The EIA projections do not call for any new central station coal-fired plants beyond those already under construction or supported by clean coal incentives.
Non-hydro renewables and natural gas are expected to be the fastest growing fuels. The generation share from renewable resources is projected to increase from 11 percent in 2009 to 14 percent in 2035. Natural gas also is expected to grow due to lower natural gas prices and relatively low capital construction costs that make it more attractive than coal. The share of generation from natural gas is expected to increase from 23 percent in 2009 to 25 percent in 2035.
Since population is a key determinant of energy consumption, while the U.S. population is projected to increase by 27 percent from 2009 to 2035, energy consumption is expected to grow by 21 percent and total electricity consumption is expected to increase at an average annual rate of 1 percent. Figure 2 shows the EIA projections for energy consumption up to 2035.
Changing nature of workforce demographics
The U. S. Department Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projections for 2008-2018 show that the civilian workforce is expected to grow by about 8 percent, with the number of people 55 years and older increasing by 43 percent and constituting about 24 percent of the workforce in 2018. Those ages 16-24 will account for about 13 percent, and the remaining 63 percent will be from the 25-54 age group. Figure 3 shows the changes in the workforce projected to 2018.
More than half of the new jobs are expected to be in professional and related occupations and service occupations. Job openings from replacement needs — those that occur when workers who retire or otherwise leave their occupations need to be replaced — are projected to be more than double the number of openings due to economic growth.
Impact on the power industry
Despite increased demand for electricity, the issue of an aging workforce will be compounded by a decline in employment in the electric power industry by 2018. The U. S. Department of Labor BLS projections in Table 1 show a decrease by about 15 percent in total employment in electric power generation, transmission and distribution.