Support power engineers of the future, today

The IEEE Power & Energy Society consists of more than 33,000 power engineering technical professionals worldwide. Deadline for IEEE PES Scholarship application is June 30.

By Wanda Reder, S&C Electric May 3, 2016

Consulting engineering plays a critical role in designing, maintaining, and operating electrical power infrastructure. Qualified consultants are needed to satisfy the power engineering market demand, which is highly variable and laced with changing requirements. The industry is also dealing with an aging utility workforce, looming retirements, and other factors that are leading to labor and skill gaps. Progress has been made to replace recent retirees; however, significant retirement rates still exist. At the same time, the electric-power industry is transforming how it generates, transmits, and distributes electric power through the application of advanced technologies and processes. Meanwhile, economic cutbacks have undermined higher education and have been compounded by retirements among engineering faculty. All these factors have affected the power engineering industry, its workforce, and skills development. Among the uncertainty, one thing is certain—when there is a gap in power engineering labor and/or required skill sets, consulting-engineering partners are asked to promptly fill the gap and provide the needed expertise.  

Finding entry-level engineers with power systems education has been a challenge in recent years, but times have changed thanks to the IEEE Power & Energy Society (PES) Scholarship Plus Initiative, which was launched as a result of a workforce collaborative report released in April of 2009. The report reviewed supply-and-demand forecasts of power engineers in the United States. It anticipated that nearly half of the technical workforce would retire or leave for other reasons in the next 5 years and that the work would be changing due to technology advancements. The recommendation was to double the annual throughput of power engineering graduates to meet the pending market need.

In 2011, the IEEE PES Scholarship Plus Initiative was launched based upon results from a philanthropic market study. Its aim was to attract the best and the brightest into the industry in order to build the necessary pipeline of technical talent. Undergraduate power engineering recipients in the U.S. and Canada receive multiyear scholarships and career-experience opportunities. They receive up to 3 years of funding—$2,000 (U.S. dollars) for each of the first 2 years and $3,000 in the third and final year—interspersed with up to two highly valued career experiences, so long as renewal standards are achieved.

Fast-forward to today, 5 years later, and it is clear that the IEEE PES Scholarship Plus Initiative is working. Some initiative highlights include:

  • Distribution of 942 scholarships to 587 students in 5 years, all in an effort to protect the future of the power industry.
  • Awarded nearly $2 million in scholarships since program inception.
  • More than 160 companies have hired PES Scholars as full-time employees or interns.
  • Developed philanthropic capability to attract $6.275 million on a $10 million goal
  • Developed to connect employers with students for internships and full-time positions. The site holds hundreds of resumes and open positions.
  • Undergraduate power engineering throughput has nearly doubled. Student interest in power engineering is 180% of what it was in 2005-2006, according to a survey done by IEEE PEEC released in 2015 using results from 126 U.S. and Canadian universities.
  • Increased PES Scholar gender diversity year-over-year for the last f4 years, reaching an all-time high of 24% female in 2015.

Engineering consultants are looked upon to fill temporary engineering needs; and with the influx of technology in the power industry, skill sets are changing. PES Scholars are multifaceted and highly motivated to develop their skill base to become the ideal power engineer for the future. Through internships, they are getting exposure to the industry and an understanding of its requirements. They are generally good at generating, using, and presenting data and welcome opportunities to broaden their range of skills. They work well in teams, are familiar with computers and software, and are typically anxious to learn about the design and operation of smart-grid, renewable, and storage technologies.

PES Scholars are the future of the power industry. They need your support, and there are many ways to provide assistance including:

  • Contributing financially to maintain the IEEE PES Scholarship Plus Initiative
  • Sponsoring internship positions at your company
  • Participating on the volunteer selection committees to review applicants and make awards
  • Posting internships and entry-level power engineering positions on
  • Hiring PES Scholars.

The IEEE Power & Energy Society consists of more than 33,000 power engineering technical professionals worldwide, with a mission to be the leading provider of scientific and engineering information on electric power and energy for the betterment of society. Fortunately, its leadership took action to strengthen the future power engineering workforce in 2011, and it is working. Find the talent that you need by becoming involved in the IEEE PES Scholarship Plus Initiative. It is successfully developing the talent that is needed for the future of the power industry.

Wanda Reder, IEEE fellow, is the founder of IEEE PES Scholarship Plus, was the president of IEEE PES in 2008-2009, and is a candidate for 2017 IEEE President-Elect. She is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the chief strategy officer at S&C Electric Company. IEEE is a CFE Media content partner.