PNCECE releases capstone project: Workforce Challenges of Electric Power Employers in the Pacific Northwest – led by WSU

12.03.13

Electric utility employment in the Pacific Northwest exceeds 40,000 highly skilled workers and generates nearly $2.8 billion in annual payrolls, according to a new labor market study published by the Pacific Northwest Center of Excellence for Clean Energy/A Centralia College Partnership (PNCECE). On average, the region’s utility wages are 82 percent higher than the average for jobs across all industries.

The study, conducted by the Washington State University (WSU) Energy Program, reveals how energy employment and workforce needs have changed since 2008, before the onset of the U.S. recession. A lack of qualified workers and looming retirement forecasts pose formidable challenges to employers and the regional economy, according to the report.

“This information is vital to utility employers,” Troy Nutter, Manager, Operational Training at Puget Sound Energy said. “It identifies where the workforce gaps will be, why there is a shortage of qualified applicants, and suggests solutions and actions not only for the industry but for educators and trainers as well.”

The study includes data gathered from 16 electric power employers, who employ nearly 28,000 workers across the five-state Pacific Northwest region (Wash., Ore., Mont., Idaho and Utah). PNCECE has released the results this week in the study, called Workforce Challenges of Electric Power Employers in the Pacific Northwest, which was funded through a $5-million (leveraged to $12-million) U.S. Department of Energy Smart Grid Workforce Training grant. Power engineering job openings are the hardest to fill, and engineers and mechanics combined are slated to share 77 percent of all new employment within the utility industry through 2016. The study findings echo national forecasts about future labor shortages in the energy workforce.

“Not only has the forecast for these occupations changed, the recession also affected the demand for electricity nationally and in our region,” Alan Hardcastle, WSU Energy Program Senior Research Associate, said. “Utility employers needed to shift hiring practices and re-establish priorities. They implemented cost-cutting measures and limited new hiring.”

“This study is extremely important to workforce development partners such as community and technical colleges throughout each state,” Barbara Hins-Turner, PNCECE Executive Director, said. “It confirms that we are developing training programs that are relevant to the industry’s workforce needs.”

“The uncertain economy caused many experienced employees to delay their retirements, but as the economy improves and more workers retire, replacing those highly skilled workers will become a significant long-term challenge for the industry,” Hardcastle said.

A copy of Workforce Challenges of the Electric Power Employers in the Pacific Northwest may be found at http://cleanenergyexcellence.org/resources.

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