The Smart Grid increases our energy security by reducing dependence on oil that only gets more costly to extract or protect.  The Smart Grid improves our economic security with a 21st century energy infrastructure that allows us to cost-effectively participate in competitive global markets.  The Smart Grid also creates new domestic white collar and blue collar jobs.   Building the Smart Grid benefits us at local, state and national levels in the USA, but the effort will require workforce education, employee reskilling, and services to assist job seekers in finding their best career transition points.    

The National Commission on Energy Policy (NCEP), part of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank focused on national challenges, issued a study from the Task Force on America’s Future Energy Jobs that highlights the magnitude of the challenges we face as we transition to the future Smart Grid.  According to the report summary, “transforming our nation’s energy systems represents an enormous undertaking.  It will require not only new, low-carbon technologies and systems, but people with the expertise to create those technologies and to plan, design, build, operate, and maintain those technologies and systems.”  In other words, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and put America back to work.

There are other reports and plenty of anecdotal evidence that highlight the fact that the Smart Grid offers numerous job opportunities.  In some cases, these opportunities are replacements of existing positions vacated by a retiring workforce.  Back in 2005, the American Public Power Association (APPA), which represents municipal power entities released a report that identified the significant losses that functions such as electricians, line workers, equipment installers, maintenance workers, plumbers, pipefitters, heating/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC) technicians and construction workers would incur due to natural workforce attrition or lack of educational opportunities.  These are traditional jobs, but will have to accommodate new Smart Grid technologies and services.  For instance, HVAC technicians may need new training as more buildings migrate to continuous commissioning to maintain optimized energy efficiency.   Other functional changes in meter operations and outage management will trigger revisions to job definitions and training.

The Society for Human Resource Management has been discussing the workforce attrition topic to initiate and accelerate utility workforce planning, and this article offers some interesting observations.  Among them, the recent economic downturn may have temporarily postponed some retirement timelines, but as many as 40% of the 400,000 electric utility workers and 106,000 natural gas workers may retire by 2013.  A significant number of these jobs do not require a college degree, but will require a high school degree and specialized training. 

The GridWise Alliance recently released a report titled The US Smart Grid Revolution: Smart Grid Workforce Trends 2011.   This report reiterates the needs to replace retiring utility resources as well as fill entirely new roles created by the technology and service suppliers to utilities.  Smart Grid enabling technologies are creating promising hiring activity in information and communications technologies (ICT) solution providers as well as traditional utility vendors.  These jobs include skill sets in telecommunications, IT, cyber security operations, data management, project and program management, customer service, and administration.   New roles in utilities, like the Consumer Engagement Manager featured in my previous blog will be created to address the changing landscape of utility priorities and job skills in consumer relationships.

SmartGridCareers.com is a website that specializes in assisting Smart Grid employers and job seekers and helps build the knowledge, skills, and information for effective performance through a variety of resources.   Their services for job seekers include job listings by company and category, and screening services for employers.  Right now they are running a survey to determine what information job seekers need about the Smart Grid to find their best fit in this growth area.  Check out the pop up box on their home page to complete the survey. 

The broad scope of available white collar and blue collar Smart Grid jobs is welcome news for our struggling economy.  Government investment in a 21st century electrical infrastructure can do even more to put unemployed and underemployed Americans back to work.  So why are our political leaders reluctant to invest in infrastructure like Smart Grid projects?  It’s a good question to pose to them.  Failure to invest in the Smart Grid is a failure to invest in us, our futures, and our national economic and energy security.