International Utilities and Energy
Conference in Miami last month, speaker after speaker pointed out evidence
that echo the laws of Moore and Wright,
showing that technological capacities
continue to rise and costs keep falling, making this space-age, clean-en-ergy future closer to grounded reality.
The company showed off its Innovation
Center facilities in France and Houston,
where researchers are working to stretch
the working limits of virtual reality training and 3-D printing for equipment
parts. That’s the edge, of course, and we
can always worry about that later…but
not much later. Already smart meters are
eliminating the historical meter reader
line of work, just like Amazon is burying
shopping mall retail. And, robots scare
the holy moly out of everybody.
But have no fear: the utility world will
need plenty of smart meter technicians,
data scientists and mechanics who know
their way around robot infrastructure.
“Robots break, they break like crazy,”
pointed out Mary “Missy” Cummings,
one of the Navy’s first female fighter pilots
and now a Duke University professor and
director of its Humans and Autonomy
Laboratory. Speaking at the Accenture
IUEC event, she assured the audience that
Utilities Must see Workforce Development as Long-term Goal
Day s Students celebrate Icebox Derby victory. They worked with ComEd engineers to build solar-powered cars out of old refrigerators. Courtesy of ComEd Utility workers like to party just like anyone else. Lately, though, it may be more retirement parties than anything else. Many of the grid’s keepers are aging out and riding off into their sunset years at a higher pace than they can be replaced. Those who are staying must approach their jobs differently
than they have in the past. This is no different than welders or
oilfield workers and many other trades, but few of those fields
are changing more dramatically than the nation’s electric trans-
mission and distribution sector.
“The industry is going through a tremendous amount of
transformation,” said Fidel Marquez, the chief governmental
and community relations officer at Commonwealth Edison
(ComEd) who started in the field as an engineer and has
worked through four decades of change. “What you learn at
school is one thing and how it works in the practical world
The nation’s utilities and their service firms are tasked with
replacing and retraining much of their ranks right here, right now.
You can’t get much more practical than that. More than a quarter
of the workforce is 55 years or older, according to some reports,
while the 20th century grid is transforming into a 21st-century
marvel with more decentralization, two-way communications
and analytics at the edge.
Factor in evolving future options such as artificial intelligence, robotics, augmented reality and predictive maintenance
and it boggles the collective workforce mind. How do you
develop all of them properly even as their duties and expectations change?
“There’s going to be a lot of jobs created involving skills that
don’t exist today,” Marquez predicted.