Developing North Carolina’s Energy Workforce

By Jonathan Susser | October 17, 2019

As North Carolina’s energy industry continues to evolve, it is critical that the state’s workforce is prepared. In our most recent smart grid webinar, Developing North Carolina’s Energy Workforce, we heard from three organizations that are creating solutions to help build a diverse, qualified workforce with the knowledge and skills to push the field forward.

The speakers included Ann Randazzo, executive director of the Center for Energy Workforce Development; LaTonya King, director of workforce planning and development at Duke Energy; and Margaret Roberton, associate vice president of Workforce Continuing Education at the North Carolina Community College System.

Center for Energy Workforce Development

Established in 2006, the Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD) is a consortium of national energy associations and electric and natural gas energy companies that focuses on addressing the workforce needs of the energy industry. It functions like a smart grid, making connections across the country between various players in the energy world.

CEWD’s primary goal is to collaborate to create the next generation of the energy workforce. It works toward this objective through a number of brands and programs, including Energy Industry Fundamentals, National Energy Education Network, Get Into Energy and Troops to Energy Jobs.

CEWD views workforce development through the lens of Strategic Workforce Planning and its four levels:

  1. Workforce Strategy: Making a plan to understand how different factors will impact the workforce
  2. Workforce Analytics: Analyzing the data to better to implement the strategy
  3. Workforce Development: Building a workforce pipeline internally and externally
  4. Measuring Execution: Studying the outcomes and results

CEWD’s National Strategic Workforce Plan, also known as the Game Changers, outlines the internal and external factors affecting workforce size and skills. In particular, with the emergence of digital and automated technologies, the energy workforce is transitioning, and there’s a need for new knowledge and skill development.

At the same time, the workforce is becoming younger, increasingly diverse and more technologically savvy, and a recent CEWD survey revealed a flatter age curve than in the past. In other words, about as many individuals are entering the industry as are leaving it, which contrasts with data from 2006 that showed an aging workforce. Therefore, rather than focusing on filling new jobs, there’s a need to ensure that current workers have the abilities and expertise to succeed in the evolving energy industry.

One way CEWD navigates the game changers and figures out next steps is through State Energy Workforce Consortia. These groups encourage multiple entities in a state to work together to ensure the energy workforce is prepared for the future, and they play an important role for both Duke Energy and the North Carolina Community College System.

Duke Energy

At Duke Energy, LaTonya King is responsible for ensuring the company has the talent necessary to lead the transformation of the energy industry. She manages an ecosystem of strategies and interconnected programs and partnerships established with education, government and community organizations to build a pipeline of qualified, diverse talent for the company’s most critical roles.

Economic development is a top priority for Duke Energy. In 2018, it helped attract 4,300 jobs to North Carolina as it worked to create a smarter energy future, and in 2019, the Duke Energy Foundation invested $2.5 million to support workforce education and training programs in the state. These developments have allowed the company to make sure its employees have the skills necessary to support its strategy and vision.

For effective external workforce development, Duke Energy values five specific components:

  1. Strong partnerships that form a network and enable workforce development to thrive
  2. Varied funding opportunities to support workforce development
  3. Industry-aligned curriculum/training at educational institutions and community organizations to ensure that the skills being taught align with company roles and needs
  4. Constructive policies that promote careers in energy, remove barriers for minority populations and align education to energy careers
  5. Early talent engagement to help spread career awareness and promote exploration and experimental learning opportunities

As it builds its workforce pipeline, Duke Energy seeks to educate students about, through and for work. In other words, the utility spreads awareness about careers; encourages hands-on, practical experience; and fosters training opportunities that promote employment.

Duke Energy is also part of the Carolinas Energy Workforce Consortium, a partnership formed in 2017 of companies in North Carolina and South Carolina that helps build a sustainable, qualified workforce in the energy sector. It focuses on workforce planning, education and career awareness to strengthen employment for the new energy economy.

North Carolina Community College System

Margaret Roberton works at the North Carolina Community College System to connect colleges, students and employers to address workforce needs in high demand, high wage positions.

The North Carolina Community College System consists of 58 community colleges that serve all 100 state counties. It reaches approximately 700,000 students per year, providing a diverse set of education and training opportunities through curriculum, short-term training and customized training programs. Today, nearly 150,000 individuals, or 1 out of every 3 workers, in the North Carolina energy generation, energy efficiency and clean transportation industries have participated in an education or training program through the North Carolina Community College System.

The North Carolina Community College System is also responsible for registered apprenticeship programs through ApprenticeshipNC to increase its effectiveness for both students and employers. Over 7,000 individuals are enrolled in 25 registered apprenticeships in occupations related to North Carolina’s energy sector.

Just like CEWD and Duke Energy, partnerships are crucial for North Carolina’s community colleges, as they help provide the appropriate resources, support consistent training and address workforce needs. For example, through the Carolinas Energy Workforce Consortium, the North Carolina Community College System assisted in the creation of an industry-aligned curriculum for lineworker programs.

Community colleges throughout the state are engaged in many energy-focused career pathways. For example, Richmond Community College’s Electric Utility Substation and Relay Technology program trains students to work with high voltage equipment and protective systems for the utility transmission system. Central Carolina Community College’s Sustainability Technologies program allows individuals to explore careers in the growing green energy economy. Fayetteville Technical Community College is one of many community colleges with a program that connects with local high schools to provide educational opportunities in energy, electrical and technical subjects. Finally, Cape Fear Community College’s Nuclear Technology program prepares individuals for careers in the industry.

With the help of CEWD, Duke Energy, the North Carolina Community College System and other organizations like them, North Carolina is well prepared to meet the workforce needs of its energy future. For more information on smart grid topics, including webinar recordings, case studies and additional resources, visit www.ncsmartgrid.org.