This is a guest post by James Gregory of Cancer Monthly discussing the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma.
Often when you hear about mesothelioma and asbestos-related diseases, it’s a lawyer on a television commercial asking you to call his 800 number. Seldom do you hear about how and where people contract this deadly disease, or how it affects you personally.
Electricians were exposed to asbestos from both the products they used and the drilling and cutting they performed on structures. Working with asbestos insulated wires, electrical panels, insulation films, and arc chutes was a hidden hazard in the 60s and 70s, and running wires through asbestos-ridden, pre-1980 buildings is still a risk today. Drilling or cutting through old joint compound, dry wall, insulation, flooring and ceiling/roofing tiles can potentially release invisible asbestos fibers into the air and into your lungs.
Since asbestos is now regulated, this risk is steadily decreasing, so younger workers are less likely to be affected. However, many older and retired electricians are in still danger from prior exposure, and sadly, many are suffering now from asbestosis, pleural plaques and effusion, and malignancies like mesothelioma.
Paul Kraus knows this all too well. He was exposed to asbestos dust through industrial trade work in the 1960s. In 1997, 30 years later, while in the hospital for routine hernia surgery, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma and given less than 12 months to live.
Today, 16 years later, Paul Kraus is very much alive and is now reported as the longest living mesothelioma survivor in the world. In his book, he details how he worked with doctors to develop a treatment plan to overcome this asbestos-caused disease. If you or someone you know is in a similar situation, you can see how he did it by ordering a free copy of his book at www.survivingmesothelioma.com.
A recent IEEE news article suggests a reduction in the number of electrical engineers in the US workforce:
“Electrical engineering jobs went down by 40 000 in the first quarter of the year, with the unemployment rate rising to 6.5 percent. In 2010 and 2011, the unemployment rate for electrical engineers held at 3.4%. In 2012, there were 335,000 electrical engineers in the workforce, said the IEEE-USA. That figure now stands at 295,000.”
Electrical engineering is a big discipline encompassing fields from computer systems to microelectronics to telecommunications to HV engineers. Whether or not there is an unemployment issue for power engineers is difficult to ascertain from statistics pertaining to the whole discipline of electrical engineering.
From this IEEE Roundup article (December 2012):
“[T]o smarten up the grid, utility companies need power engineers—lots of them—and soon. That’s because during the next decade, about half of the estimated 7000 engineers in the field in the United States are expected to retire.”
The solutions offered by the article all amount to throwing more money at encouraging students to take up power engineering, e.g.
“One of the possible solutions is the IEEE Power & Energy Society’s Scholarship Plus Initiative is a multimillion-dollar three-year program that encourages EE undergrads to pursue careers in power engineering by awarding them scholarships and providing career experiences as undergraduates.”
“[T]he Portland General Electric Foundation awarded a $50 000 grant to Portland State University to help prepare engineering students for careers in the power industry. “
“Patricia Hoffman, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy at the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability reported that the department used $100 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—the economic stimulus plan enacted in 2009—to retarget programs toward smart-grid education. The department granted 54 awards to rebuild various university power and energy programs and fund research projects.”
The Unwritten Laws of Engineering are a series of three articles (parts one, two and three) written in 1944 by W. J. King and published in Mechanical Engineering magazine. Don’t let the “mechanical” part fool you because the advice is applicable to all engineers.
This EnergyBiz article from September 2012 provides more worrying evidence about the demographic problem facing the power industry and the lack of new graduate engineers.
On the demographic problem in industry:
“[Wanda Reder] described the situation as a perfect storm based on the demographics of an aging engineering workforce combined with the dearth of a pipeline of college graduates in the United States pursuing careers in engineering. Moreover, utilities face stiff competition from higher-paying industries for the limited number of engineering graduates.”
“Workforce demographics are affecting National Grid, a global utility with 3.5 million electric customers in three states, explained Root. In the next five years, 23 percent of its engineers are eligible to retire, 56 percent of its engineers are at least 45 years old and yet 44 percent have less than 10 years of experience. Hence, inexperienced engineers are going to need extensive training to fill the void of the retiring engineers, many with 20 years experience.”
On the brain drain at universities:
“The engineering brain drain is also a faculty issue at universities. Thomas noted that 40 percent of Cornell’s power engineering faculty can retire in the next few years, so attracting engineers to post-graduate programs is just as important as hiring them in industry.”
On possible solutions to the problem:
“Having government, industry and universities collaborate to address the problem; providing scholarships to stimulate interest in power engineering; and creating one-on-one mentoring programs to influence students to consider careers with utilities.”
“Reder said utilities must emphasize workforce development, bringing in new talent, making sure that the pipeline is adequate, and looking toward knowledge transfer in anticipation of significant attrition.”
In Search of a New Generation of Power Systems Engineers
Over the next decade, it is estimated that over half of the power systems engineering workforce is eligible to retire. At the same time as knowledge and experience leave the industry, there is renewed investment and political will to upgrade ageing infrastructure and transform the grid to integrate renewable and distributed sources of generation.
This blog looks at how we as a profession are going to fill this gap between growing demand and shrinking supply of specialist power engineering skills, with particular focus on the education and training of a new generation of power systems engineers.
Open Electrical is a free power systems engineering resource for industry practitioners, academics and students.
- Surviving Mesothelioma
- Dismal Unemployment Numbers for Electrical Engineers
- Filling the Power Engineering Skills Gap
- The Unwritten Laws of Engineering
- Recruiting Challenges in the Power Sector
- In a Warming Job Market, the Hottest Sector is Power
- Smart Grid and the Next Generation
- European Universities not “turning out enough engineers”
- Reinventing the Way We Teach Engineers
- Improving Mathematics Education
- HBS Case Study Approach to Engineering Education
- Comparing Engineering in India and Australia
- Can Engineering Schools be Fixed? Part 3
- Can Engineering Schools be Fixed? Part 2
- Can Engineering Schools be Fixed? Part 1