With a significant lack of incoming power engineers due to too few undergraduates focusing on a power curriculum, coupled with a high number of planned retirements, the power and energy industry could soon face a critical talent gap. A group of IEEE Power & Energy Society (PES) volunteers developed an initiative combining financial awards, career experiences, and professional development – to give students an intimate look at exciting careers in power and energy.
PES realized that true excitement for a career in power and energy engineering comes not just through encouraging its study with scholarship – but also through the knowledge of where students can make a difference in the field and what they would be doing on the job. In building the IEEE PES Scholarship Plus Initiative, the Society implemented career-focus activities to engage students. Scholars are expected to build knowledge and gain hands-on experience through internships and cooperatives, giving them real-world applications of their class studies. Additionally, recipients are encouraged to seek mentors, attend PES events, and network with professionals to augment and expand their understanding of the diversity of work available with a power engineering career.
“As a PES Scholar and aJohn W. Estey Outstanding Scholar – Region 2, I was invited to the 2016 IEEE PES General Meeting in Boston. This gave me the chance to network with professionals, who helped me arrange interviews at their companies; attend seminars about the future of the grid, that helped me determine my topic for my Master’s research; and gain insight and excitement about the power industry!” says Mary Scherer, 2015 PES Scholar. Mary is one of seven annual Estey Scholars. The scholarship recognizes the top Scholar of each region and is funded by a gift from the S&C Foundation in honor of John W. Estey.
When the IEEE PES Scholarship Plus Initiative was inaugurated in 2011, the goal was to double the number of undergraduate students who are United States citizens or permanent residents choosing a power-focused curriculum, obtaining career experiences in the power and energy field, and actively seeking a power and energy engineering career. Subsequently, the Initiative was expanded to include Canada and Puerto Rico as both were also experiencing a lack of qualified power engineers. “Future retirements nearing 55% were predicted to leave our industry with a lack of experience which can be very dangerous in planning and operations. There was a lack of growth in the existing power programs – the scholarship initiative would give that a lift,” says Peter Sauer, former IEEE PES Vice President for Education.
Since the program began, 723 students at 169 universities throughout the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico were awarded 1,172 scholarships. Nearly 50% of all Scholars receive recognition more than once – deepening their involvement with and understanding of the industry and increasing the probability that they will seek a power and energy focused engineering career upon graduation. With a recognition that the industry is aiming to diversify its workforce, 20% of all PES Scholars are female and 7% of all PES Scholars are veterans.
“The program has helped to double the enrollment of young engineers in power courses in five short years,” says Sauer.
To further the Initiative’s impact on career development, PES Mentors for PES Scholars was established. This is a group of volunteers who provide one-on-one interaction with PES Scholars. Scholars are able to ask questions ranging from which curriculum to take to key industry trends to how to gain a job post-graduation. Giving students access to practicing engineers helps them understand the job market, learn which classes may help them gain jobs, and build their professional network.
“Because of the IEEE PES Scholarship, I found exciting internships in the power industry, and I accepted a full-time job in the power industry after graduation! I love that by working in the power industry I can have a direct, positive impact on the lives of people in my community. Keeping the lights on is work that I can be proud of. I’m excited to see how the industry and the grid adapts with the introduction of new technologies and regulations,” says Scherer.
More than 300 PES Scholars are already working in the power and energy industry at approximately 180 companies. The top ten companies represent consulting groups, manufacturers, and utilities. Yet, there is still work to be done. The Center for Energy Workforce Development released the 2015 Gaps in the Energy Workforce Pipeline Survey showing the generation workforce is the oldest of the job categories surveyed with the highest percentage of employees over the age of 53. Engineers and technicians have the highest attrition retirement forecasts and account for over half of the potential replacements in the next five years. The 2014 Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) notes “Projections indicate that, by 2030, the energy sector overall, including the transmission, storage, and distribution segment, will employ an additional 1.5 million workers.”
IEEE PES Scholarship Plus Initiative is a highly successful program for IEEE and PES and shows that working together with our industry partners makes a positive impact. PES is helping ensure a very-qualified and passionate next generation of power engineers, fueling a strong talent pipeline for power and energy sector employers.
“The Scholarship program shows that IEEE and PES care about quality in the next generation of power engineers and the importance of keeping that pipeline full,” says Sauer.
Additionally, undergraduate students can continue to benefit from the scholarship’s financial assistance. “Thanks to the IEEE PES Scholarship Plus, I was able to focus more on my studies and club involvement, without taking on a part-time job during the semester or racking up college debt,” says Scherer.
The IEEE PES Scholarship Plus Initiative is funded by individual and corporate contributions secured by the IEEE Foundation. Nearly seven million dollars has been raised to fuel the future power and energy engineers. Both PES and the Foundation are committed to ensuring the program remains a success and continue to seek financial support to ensure that the workforce needs of the power and energy industry are sufficiently met. The IEEE Foundation Board of Directors conducted a comprehensive review of the Scholarship Plus in 2015 and agreed that the Initiative is making a significant difference in the outcome of readily available talent and should continue.
“Recognizing highly-qualified, dedicated and enthusiastic students who will help craft the future of IEEE – what a great way for IEEE to use its resources! The effort and leadership that Wanda Reder has provided for the program is truly award winning and will have a lasting impact on our profession and the power engineers of the future. When we raise enough funds, it will be a crown jewel in the legacy of the leadership and members of IEEE,” says Sauer.
Learn more about the IEEE PES Scholarship Plus Initiative.
Learn more about Mary and other PES Scholars.
Learn more about the IEEE Foundation and how its donors are making the Initiative a financial success.
For more information on how your Society can implement a scholarship program, contact Stan Retif, Chief Development Officer of the IEEE Foundation.