Electric Power Engineers – Battling Supply and demand
Demand for qualified and experienced electric power engineers is soaring, not only in New Zealand, but also internationally. To add to this, the global electricity industry looks to be getting very close to an ever widening and inevitable ‘knowledge gap’. According to a recent US study, a large percentage of experienced industry engineers and technicians, from executive through to trades level, are rapidly approaching retirement age over the next 3 years (2008-2011). These experienced engineers (mainly baby boomers) are also set to take over 60% of industry know-how (i.e. knowledge assets) with them into retirement. The study also indicates that the solution to this critical issue resides in academia, where more new specialist power engineers must be produced to meet future industry challenges. Meanwhile, academia in recent times has seen the rapid decline of electric power graduate numbers (globally), influenced by a number of factors such as competition between degrees and marketing in the academic environment. It estimates that in the US alone, universities currently produce an average of only 10 power engineering graduates per year, per state. However, the situation in New Zealand does not appear as grim, mainly as a result of an industry-academia joint initiative launched 6 years ago. It was in 2002 that a number of players in the NZ power industry, together with the University of Canterbury, had the foresight and commitment to take action against this trend. They did this by establishing New Zealand’s Centre of Excellence for electric power engineering, the EPECentre (Electric Power Engineering Centre, ww.epecentre.ac.nz) at the University of Canterbury, considered by many as the traditional hub for electric power engineering education in the country. Since its launch, a tremendous leap forward has been achieved in the growth of power engineering graduate numbers entering New Zealand industry via the University of Canterbury, taking what was 15% of electrical engineering graduates specialising in power in 2000 (pre-EPECentre) to 47% in 2008. Between 2006 and 2008, the average number of power graduates entering industry per year is 35. Furthermore, industry demand for graduates is at an all time high, with as many as 3 job offers in some instances for a graduate specialised in electric power.