“Really anyone who likes science or math, we’ve probably got a job for you,” said Justin Johnson, Senior Director of Engineering at Oncor, one of the country’s largest transmission and distribution utilities based in Dallas, Texas.
Johnson’s sentiments are echoed by electrical industry representatives across the nation, chronicled in a series of videos dubbed “Vids4Grids.” The video series, a project by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and funded by one of the Energy Department’s Smart Grid workforce development programs, takes a look at the range of new technologies in the electrical industry and gives great insight for those considering careers in engineering.
As you find out from watching the videos, smart grid technology – for example, smart meters, high voltage transmission lines, sensors and transformers – doesn’t just mean jobs for engineers. New smart grid technology is offering exciting career opportunities across engineering, communications, marketing and sales disciplines. There are a variety of components to our electrical grid – from generation to transmission to distribution to storage – and a primary focus of upgrading the grid is communication and making the nation’s electrical systems more “intelligent” to maximize efficiency and reliability.
“The power systems industry right now, it’s really hot,” said Mary Fuelling, a Global Organizational Manager at Cooper Power Systems in Waukesha, Wisconsin, where they offer leadership development programs in sales and marketing, as well as engineering. “And one of the things that is really exciting, is that we have right now a lot of opportunities for eager students that want to come and be successful within our organization.”
Chris Coughlin discovered that such a thing as marketing engineering existed at Cooper Power Systems – a career path that would allow him to interact with people and work with customers to solve their technical problems. After school, he participated in a sales and marketing development program at Cooper Power Systems where he rotated through the different divisions – transformers, regulators, capacitors, switchgears – to learn the ins and outs of the industries. After the year-long training program, he was off-placed in the voltage regulator department as a product specialist, which allows him the flexibility to go out into the field and work with customers.
American companies are discovering a global market for these new technologies. Tom Rogers, Vice President of Human Resources at Hubbell Power Systems in Aiken, South Carolina explains that his sale team is not only hitting Latin American and Canadian markets, but also Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. American leadership in the industry, spurred also by targeted investments in our electrical grid, is critical for continuing to grow these markets for American products and avoid being out-innovated by countries like China, which is investing tremendous amounts into developing new technologies to upgrade their grid.
Developing a smarter electrical system also involves investment in training programs to build the workforce we need to successfully design, implement and sell these technologies. Many of the companies featured in the series offer workforce training programs, as mentioned above. Additionally, the Energy Department funds Smart Grid workforce development programs (shown above on the map) that are helping transition our workforce. We’re upgrading a grid that hasn’t changed in nearly half a century – our workforce must similarly evolve to both enable this upgrade and support our infrastructure into the future.
Not to mention, working on the smart grid can be both exciting and rewarding. Siva Devarokonda, a design engineer who works on smart meters at Itron Inc. in West Union, South Carolina, worked on meter communications and real-time data transfer and is excited now to see this technology in action in homes across America – millions of meters transferring electrical usage data securely and reliably.
Devarokonda says, “In a nutshell, as an electrical engineer at Itron, it’s really exciting to be making a part of electrical industry history in modernizing the grid and to be able to do it in a way where you can use your education and expertise to make a difference to the environment and conserve natural resources.”