Chair's Update 2nd Quarter 2015

By Ken Smith posted 06-25-2017 19:11


Last June, I introduced the theme "Inspiring the Next Generation," because I believe IDEA plays an integral role in influencing the direction of the energy industry. Over the years our efforts have focused on exploring technologies and growth opportunities, but it is critical that we are also investing in the next generation of talent. The importance of this investment was reinforced during the recent cooling and campus conferences, where topics highlighted industry changes, growing awareness of the energy-water nexus, microgrids as a resilience solution, and integration of thermal and electric sectors. More people are engaging with our industry because of the increasing interest in community energy, the investments in energy infrastructure and the opportunities to build, maintain, transition and grow systems. To maintain this momentum, our industry will need to engage stakeholders and, most importantly, new talent.

The integration of new talent will be most intensely driven by workforce changes for the people who have led our industry for decades. Since entering this field, I have worked alongside great people who have experienced incredible changes in technology and energy solu­tions. They have earned wisdom and ex­pertise that can only be realized through years of overcoming challenges. I have learned so much from these leaders and would like to believe that they have also learned from me. As my own experiences have grown, so has my responsibility to the next generation, even as I continue to learn from our industry's stalwarts. The responsibility for knowledge transfer may reside with our most experienced people, but we are all obligated to be part of the development process that leads to better practices and great discoveries. In our company, 49 percent of our workforce is over the age of 50. A good number of those dedicated employees have been with the company more than 30 years and possess immeasurable knowledge. Our situation is very common. To adapt and thrive, we must learn from their ex­periences and groom talent that will plan, design, operate, maintain and lead in the coming decades.

Successful transition of knowledge and skills in our industry depends on a robust talent pipeline. The United States is one of many nations reinforcing devel­opment of technical skills, with U.S. edu­cators increasing the focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). This means that more students will be entering the workforce with technical aptitude. However, currently there is significant marketplace competition for skilled, well-trained talent. So we need to support efforts to develop technically adept individuals who are systems thinkers and can enter our field open to learning and discovery. We also need to nurture this talent. We need to be relevant. We need to be a place for ideas to hatch and be realized. We need to be ready to share what we know and what we don't. The learning process should always be mutually beneficial.

Our energy systems are where we all learn, live, invent, build and do busi­ness. Working in our industry should be an exciting prospect. We should be able to recruit the best of the best. IDEA has more than a century of success delivering energy, which makes us unique. It makes us reliable and stable, but it shouldn't make us predictable or complacent. We have a great opportunity to convey decades of experience to the next gen­eration. I envision this transition like run­ners in a relay race. Both runners share responsibility for the transition, which is crucial. The lead runner must anticipate the next runner and securely hand off the baton. The next runner must be prepared for the handoff and to take off into the next leg of the race. They must run side by side for a time to ensure the handoff is secure and successful. Before and after, they may run as individuals, but for that time, they run as a team.

In a few short months, I will hand the baton to Bruce Ander at our annual conference in Boston. I am so grateful for the opportunities given to me during my time as board chair, but I am certain that Bruce will guide IDEA with intelligence, creativity and commitment to our success as an industry. Great things continue to evolve for each of us. I look forward to gathering with you all in Boston to see what else we can accomplish together in this very important time for IDEA.

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