Industry Focused Education

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Across the United States, utility companies—every one of them—has a relationship with a community college or a university,” said Matt Sadinsky, CEO of Prequalified Ready Employees for Power International, a talent development and recruiting company for the energy industry. The connection benefits both partners. The utility gains a valuable future employee resource, because students of the institution will be trained to meet the needs of the company—assuming that the curriculum includes courses appropriate to utility work. The college or university placement office gets a potential hiring resource that is looking for its qualified graduates. It is definitely a win-win situation.
Otter Tail Power Co.’s Big Stone Plant (BSP) offers an example of one such successful partnership. (Disclosure: I am a former BSP employee.) BSP is a 475-MW coal-fired power plant in eastern South Dakota. In 2006, Plant Manager Jeff Endrizzi could see the writing on the wall. The plant, then staffed with 75 personnel, had dealt with very little employee turnover up to that point—averaging only one retirement every 18 months—but Endrizzi projected that the plant would see 51 employees head for the door between 2012 and 2025 based upon the ages of the staff at the time.
“I took a chart to Lake Area Technical Institute (LATI) in Watertown, S.D., in 2006 to explain our expected needs,” Endrizzi said. “LATI had established programs for electronics, robotics, welding, and machining, and we had hired several graduates in the past. However, our upcoming retirements were from the mechanical maintenance and operations departments, and no program at LATI, or any other technical institute in the area, trained candidates for these positions.
Endrizzi met with Deb Shephard, the vice president of LATI at the time, to discuss possible program additions at the school. Although BSP’s needs alone weren’t great enough to support new programs, Endrizzi encouraged Shepard to visit with other facilities in the area to determine if there was a broader regional need. Those conversations led LATI to develop its energy technology program and, later, an energy operations program. BSP employees continue to serve in an advisory capacity for each of those programs, as well as for LATI’s welding and robotics programs.

Category: Workforce, Power, Energy