Remember when you first came into the industry. I bet you can name those mentors who stepped up and encouraged and supported you. Now it is your turn to step up and help those coming into the industry. And, wow, do we need inquiring minds to enter the business today.

Take a look around your office. What do you see? If you are like me, many colleagues could retire and likely will when the economy rebounds. Those same colleagues know the idiosyncrasies of the electric system, are the technical wizards who have been responsible for innovation and have committed their careers to the reliable operations.

Where will we be without them? In a big mess, that's where. Unless we take action now.

In challenging economic and uncertain times, it is easy to ignore the demographic reality and assume that those whom we have counted on will continue to be there in the future. It is especially true since employees have not retired at the projected rates or left their jobs for other opportunities at the same levels as in previous years. But let's get real! When the economy rebounds, investment, technology and expertise will be needed like never before to build new infrastructure for load growth and to modernize aging infrastructure to support the emerging digital economy.

Sadly, rather than our companies preparing for the inevitable, the opposite is occurring. Hiring is on the downhill slide, the workforce is shrinking and it is continuing to mature. According to the Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD) 2011 survey, the U.S. workforce dropped from 535,000 in 2009 to 525,000 in 2011. While the number of engineers slightly increased during this period, the number of line workers, technicians and plant operators has decreased. Furthermore, the CEWD study states the average age of the electric and natural gas utility workforce increased from 45.7 in 2006 to 46.1 in 2010; employees between the ages of 18 and 27 have decreased while the number of employees age 53 and above has increased. This reflects limited new hiring and a growing number of employees who delayed retirement.

The power and energy industry is now in an enviable position because it is able to attract the interest of the best and brightest. There is a prevailing spirit on campuses where students are eager to find classroom and career experiences that make a difference in energy, the society at large and sustainability. Are we doing all that we can to capture that interest, guide the educational process and integrate graduates into the workforce to ensure expertise will be available as needed? No, we are not. And it's time to take action!

So I am making a personal plea for you to support the Power & Energy Society (PES) Scholarship Plus Initiative. We are focusing on undergraduate students who are pursuing careers in power engineering. We are providing multi-year scholarships and career experience opportunities to qualifying U.S. electrical engineering undergraduate students. We intend to double the pipeline of undergraduate engineers in power programs to meet our industry's need for talent while feeding the academic faculty pipeline and rebuilding our power programs.

But we need your help.

Join our capital campaign to raise US$10 million over three years. Early results are promising individual donors and a few big companies have already stepped up. S&C Electric Co. and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories have demonstrated their support by each contributing more than $1 million. To date, the campaign has resulted in $4.1 million of donations and pledges. But we can do more. We need you to support the IEEE PES Scholarship Plus Initiative. Let's work together to attract and develop the best and brightest through scholarship contributions, meaningful career experiences, networking and mentoring.

We are making progress. In the first year of the program, IEEE awarded 93 PES scholarships to students from 51 universities across the United States. In 2012, 377 applications have been submitted from 130 universities. Because regional committees make the scholarship selections, you are assured that scholarships will be given to students near you for the fall of 2012.

But more is needed. We are asking you to invest in our energy future. Plug into the IEEE PES Scholarship Plus Initiative. Don't whine that no one is doing anything about the future. Don't complain about the lack of talent in the industry. Instead, pay it forward by making your tax-deductable contribution at www.ee-scholarship.org.


Wanda K. Reder (wanda.reder@sandc.com) is an IEEE Fellow, founder and co-chair of the IEEE Power & Energy Society Scholarship Plus Initiative, chair of IEEE Smart Grid, 2008-2009 president of the IEEE Power & Energy Society and served on the IEEE Power & Energy Society Governing Board from 2002-2012. Reder is a member of U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu's DOE Electricity Advisory Committee and vice president of power systems services at S&C Electric Co.