The “silver tsunami of hydropower retirement is here,” said Debbie Gallaher with Chelan PUD. “Nationally, one-third of utility employees will retire in the next 10 years.”
Hydropower generators in rural areas are being particularly hard hit. Millennials finishing college, technical schools and military duty with the right STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) backgrounds are being gobbled up by the gig, aerospace and high-end manufacturing economy in Seattle and the I-5 corridor.
“What we also know,” said Gallaher, “is that there are high school students growing up in our communities who want to stay and raise a family here.” These are also the students most likely to stay with a utility for several years rather than moving to a large urban area after they get some experience.
Utilities that are part of the Foundation for Water and Energy Education see it as in their enlightened self-interest to make the connection with high-school students early. Said Chuck Allen with Grant County PUD, “High school students in our area need to see what’s behind the concrete curtain of our hydro projects. Careers in engineering, mechanics, and operations are challenging and often leading edge. These are quality-wage jobs available right in their backyard.”
To help high school students better understand careers in hydropower, FWEE has created its annual Hydro STEM Academy, which is June 19 to 23 at Rocky Reach Dam near Wenatchee, Wash.
The academy is open to high school aged students. During the academy, students will explore the physics involved in producing hydropower, the varied rewarding careers in the hydro industry, with hands-on activities and demonstrations.
The deadline for applications for the Academy is May 5.