- The industry was bracing for an upcoming “retirement bubble” in its current workforce.
- Companies were interested in hiring new entry-level employees with higher-level skills.
- Current employees needed retraining to keep up-to-date with changing technologies.
Training and education for existing and new workers was clearly needed, and adding a new online program would allow existing utility workers, who could not attend traditional classes due to their rotating work shifts and travel schedules, to participate in industry-related education. Working with CAEL and with the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the companies proposed an online learning format that would enable current and potential workers to access training and education from any location, at any time, independent of work-schedule constraints. This was the beginning of the Energy Providers Coalition for Education (EPCE).
Through the development of online asynchronous education programs especially designed for working adults, EPCE is helping its members—and the entire industry—train and educate its current and future workforce to meet this demand. The instructor-led online courses are provided through a partnership with Bismarck State College, which allows EPCE to offer current employees—or those wishing to enter the energy industry—the degrees and certificates, such as an A.A.S. degree in Electric Power Technology, the Essentials of Electric Power Technology Certificate, the Program Certificate in Electric Power Technology, the A.A.S. degree in Nuclear Power Technology and the Program Certificate in Nuclear Power Technology.
Employee enthusiasm for the programs runs high—approximately 400 workers have enrolled in the Electric Power Technology programs, for example. “I would never have had the opportunity to get a degree were it not for this program,” said an operations coordinator at Entergy. “It basically covers the things we do—substation lines, grounding, etc. It’s a good fit for me.”
Critical skill and worker shortages facing nuclear power plants presented a new challenge to address. Before fall of 2005, the coalition will work with Bismarck State College to develop 13 new courses for nuclear power plants that meet industry-specific training needs. Although the college had expertise offering other energy programs, a nuclear program was a new undertaking that resulted from the coalition’s urging. “Our instructors and staff are working with EPCE to make the Nuclear Power Technology program, along with the Electric Power Technology program, a valuable educational resource for energy employers and students throughout the nation,” said Donna Thigpen, president of Bismarck State College.
The industry couldn’t agree more. “We think the time is right to move forward with an online education program like EPCE,” said Dr. Jo Magennis, nuclear training specialist, College of Nuclear Power for Florida Power & Light’s Seabrook, St. Lucie and Turkey Point nuclear plants. “We want to ensure a flow of talent for the industry in the coming years, and an online degree option like this is a cost-effective and smart solution whose time has come.”
Pamela Cowen, education manager at the American Public Power Association (APPA), added, “Our membership in EPCE is good for APPA, our members and their customers.” A survey of APPA members uncovered that as a result of the projected workforce deficit, the two biggest problems APPA members face are a loss of critical knowledge and a shortage of replacements with utility-specific skills. “Our membership in EPCE helps us meet these challenges head-on, by enabling us to offer our members quality online learning programs at a discount—and by participating in the curriculum development process,” said Cowen.
EPCE is unique because the curriculum for its online education programs is developed by industry coalition members in partnership with Bismarck State College. As a result, the courses are relevant in today’s work environment and prepare students for real-life work responsibilities. Offering the programs online has been a big help, according to John H. Pettingill, senior training instructor at Xcel Energy: “Traditional campus programs for the training we need are either unavailable or too inconvenient for most working adults, and they’re usually not an option for single parents and families working different shifts. That’s why we’re happy to be participants in the EPCE program.”
Because the online programs have been developed by the industry, for the industry, Bob Patton, senior advisor for educational programs at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), says that the program is a way for the NRECA’s members to identify “qualified technical workforce recruits.”
Today, EPCE is a partnership of 17 members, representing 248,000 employees from more than 2,900 electric utility companies and 17 nuclear power plants across the country.