Confronting the challenge of the Silver Tsunami
Bree Mendlin, Program Director, Hydropower Foundation
Workforce Development in the aging hydropower industry is not for the faint of heart. Small but mighty, the Hydropower Foundation (HF) jumps headfirst into delivering programs and activities that offer a solution to the growing workforce challenges of the waterpower community. As a not-for-profit supporting clean, reliable, renewable energy, the Foundation produces tailored educational events to expose students to waterpower industries and the career opportunities that lay within. Specifically, students pursuing post-secondary education are hand-picked to learn about the industry, gain career support, and meet hiring organizations. Our successful and well-received programs engage the academic community and industry stakeholders to produce programs with an eye toward gaining the interest of the next-generation workforce.
Foundation Educational Programs have a strong brand with the academic community and potential employers. Starting with the marked success of the Research Awards Program(RAP), where 75% of the graduating fellows either continued their research in topics critical to hydropower or are working among us within the industry. Elliott Jackson from HDR and Mark Christian with EPRI are two graduates of our program. Next time you see them, be sure and ask them about their experience. Though RAP has come to a successful conclusion, the nuggets of success some of our newer programs are being realized as well. Internships, fellowships and actual employments are the direct result of the Foundation’s Hiring for Hydro™ and Hydro Think Tank™ programs. Shannon Kellam, Mechanical Engineer at Grant County PUD, and Annika Kallstrom, Power Business Technology Analyst at Chelan County PUD, are just two examples of students who participated in these programs, built relationships with the Foundation and other industry leaders. These programs provided them with an industry “mentor” to help them get a jump start on their careers. As we all know, it is not what you know; instead, it’s who you know. To quote Annika, “Thank you! Again, I really want to express how grateful I am for the Hydro Foundation and how Hiring for Hydro™ helped me get introduced to working in hydro. Keep up the good work!”
And there are others, a 2019 Hiring for Hydro participant, Zach Dunagan, recently shared his news of obtaining a position as a Mechanical Engineer in the hydropower group at General Electric. The programs are getting results. To continue this success, they need support. The support through funding and sponsorships as well as industry engagement by sharing your talents and volunteering to mentor our participants. Our work provides a proven solution to that significant challenge of how to attract, recruit, and prepare the next generation of the waterpower workforce.
Our hiring programs are only one of the tools in our tool box. Together with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office and National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Hydropower Foundation established the 2023 Hydropower Collegiate Competition (HCC). In its first year, HCC engages interdisciplinary teams of undergraduate and graduate students from various academic programs to attract a new set of skilled and diverse workers to modernize the U.S. hydropower fleet. The HCC mirrors the most successful Marine Energy Collegiate Competition (MECC), now in its third year. The mission behind these competitions is to show the next generation workforce the exciting career opportunities they could pursue, should they choose one of these industries.
Lastly, the Hydropower Foundation continues its efforts to attract more women to the hydropower industry through the Julie Keil Scholarship Fund for Women. This scholarship supports young women pursuing STEM degrees to chase career aspirations in any facet of hydropower. It was established in memory of one of the hydropower community’s finest, Julie Keil, who was lost too soon and significantly impacted all who knew her. The Keil scholarship is one of two that the Foundation now administers. We established the Mike Sale Memorial Scholarship to continue Sales’ amazing legacy. He was a favorite around the Hydropower Foundation, the National Hydropower Association (NHA), the Low Impact Hydro Institute (LIHI), and Oakridge National Lab, where he worked for most of his career. Mike had a vibrant passion for supporting the next generation in their pursuit of jobs in hydropower through researching topics relevant to the industry while completing graduate studies. The hope is to present the first award in the spring of 2023.
The Foundation’s workforce programs have a solid track record. The need for these types of programs is only growing. We need the engagement and support from the hydropower community to partner with us in this critical time to reach the next generation. There are many ways to get involved with the Hydropower Foundation, from helping us fundraise through sponsoring events, becoming a member, and volunteering. Get plugged in! Reach out to Bree@hydrofoundation.org for more information.