Wanted: GOLD for smart grid

April 9, 2010
By Elisa Wood April 8, 2010 As John McDonald tells it, smart grid needs GOLD. And he’s not talking money. GOLD stands for Graduates of the Last Decade, the technology savvy, risk-taking engineers and technicians who may be among the greatest benefactors of the new smart grid movement. While most recent college graduates face dismal […]

By Elisa Wood

April 8, 2010

As John McDonald tells it, smart grid needs GOLD. And he’s not talking money.

GOLD stands for Graduates of the Last Decade, the technology savvy, risk-taking engineers and technicians who may be among the greatest benefactors of the new smart grid movement. While most recent college graduates face dismal employment prospects, for the GOLD kids, the job market is, well, golden.

“I’ve never seen electric utilities and suppliers outbidding each other for a bachelor’s degree,” said McDonald, who has had 35 years in the energy business and now serves as an IEEE Fellow and general manager of marketing for GE Energy T&D.

GOLDs benefit from two converging trends. The first is the sizeable technical task that utilities face in integrating smart grid technologies. The second is the wave of retirements expected to hit the utility industry in the next five to seven years.

These young recruits will invigorate the utility industry, which is notorious for being risk adverse, a trait that has kept the lights on but also hinders adoption of new and more effective technologies.

Two utility cultures tend to dominate today, according to McDonald. One approaches smart grid with an “over my dead body” attitude. The second is about three retirements away from embracing smart grid.

“The older folks say we’ve been doing this for 20 years. I’ve got three years to retirement, and I’m not going to do anything new that might cause a problem,” he said. “That will go away with the GOLD folks. These are folks who went to Block Buster and rented a game and learned how to use it in a matter of minutes.”

Not only will GOLD engineers find it easy to get jobs in the electric power industry, but they also are likely to advance quickly in the ranks, McDonald said. Utilities have done little hiring in the last 15 years. Thus, the middle group – those in between upper management and new recruits – tends to be thin. So the way is clear for GOLDs to enter management early in their careers.

Demand for GOLDS is already strong, but it is likely to get even more intense. Smart grid is still new, only in the design/engineering phase, still to take on manufacturing and field deployment. More jobs will open as these stages occur.

What can engineering students do to position themselves for the plum jobs? McDonald advises that they pursue internships in the power and energy industry with electric utilities, testing labs and suppliers or snag research positions with professors.  IEEE also has set up a website where job seekers can post resumes:  http://www.ieee-pes.org/workforce/pes-careers.

“It is exciting for me because my son is in that [GOLD] space. The potential for him is much greater than it is for me,” McDonald said. “I’m 58. Most of us who have been in the industry for a long time will be more than willing to give decision-making to this group.”

Visit Elisa Wood at http://www.realenergywriters.com/ and pick up her free Energy Efficiency Markets podcast and newsletter.

About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded RealEnergyWriters.com, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

Twitter: @ElisaWood

LinkedIn: Elisa Wood

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