Forecasting Workforce Needs with Analytical Data

By Jay Paidipati, Megan Kuc, Greg Chung, and Rachel Baron

The U.S. hydropower fleet provides critical energy and ancillary services to the country’s power supply. To operate and maintain this fleet, it is necessary to have a skilled and thoroughly educated workforce, able to support current and future energy demands.

The industry’s workforce needs are varied and include positions in research, development, maintenance, education, operations, and siting. Because of this, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) retained Navigant, in partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), to conduct a national labor assessment of the hydropower industry.

The study is ongoing and seeks to:

  • Estimate the size of the current hydro workforce;
  • Catalog skills, training, and educational needs of the workforce and how they are met;
  • Project the potential size of the workforce in 20 years, given a number of difference scenarios, and where skill set gaps exist relative to today’s workforce; and
  • Determine if additional training programs are needed to meet workforce needs within 20 years, while developing roadmaps to fill the gaps.

Defining labor categories and critical skills

To size and characterize the current operations and maintenance workforce, Navigant developed a framework for categorizing different roles and responsibilities at power plants. These categories were reviewed by industry stakeholders and cover all labor typically used in operations and maintenance (O&M) of conventional and pumped-storage facilities. Table 1 details the labor categories and examples of occupations that might be included within the framework.

Sizing the hydropower workforce

After defining the industry’s labor categories, Navigant assessed the current workforce size via a three-step process.

1. Navigant defined the current number and capacity of plants in the United States: To understand the current fleet size, Navigant worked with NREL and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to attain the most up-to-date fleet assessment in advance of the DOE’s 2014 Hydropower Market Report.

2. Navigant collected information on employment: Navigant gathered and analyzed information on the current workforce size using data from its Generation Knowledge Service database. Called “GKS Hydro,” the tool is a web-enabled subscription benchmarking service that provides a diagnostic assessment of each participating company’s overall performance relative to industry peers. Using these cost and operational performance benchmarks as an objective baseline, companies can identify and close performance gaps with industry leaders. GKS Hydro has employment data for about 75% of the U.S. hydro fleet, including detailed head counts in the seven labor categories listed in Table 1 for both in-house and contractor staff.

3. Navigant scaled the results to cover the entire hydro industry: For the remaining 25% of the fleet, Navigant developed normalized employment metrics-full-time equivalent (FTE)/MW-based on GKS data. The resulting total is about 23,000 FTEs, as shown in Table 2.

Further analysis

To further validate the analysis, Navigant conducted a series of interviews with 10 companies whose fleets represent 40% of the United States’ existing hydro fleet. The companies’ plant owners and operators were asked to not only verify the results of Navigant’s assessment, but to provide more information regarding hiring, training, and additional qualitative information on their concerns and challenges related to retirements and expanding the workforce.

The first area of focus was educational and experiential requirements sought by owners and operators when filling a position. Key findings, illustrated in Table 3, show that most companies use an apprenticeship program for craft positions and that most companies promote from within for managerial positions.

Next, Navigant asked about annual training provided. This yielded some qualitative information that was supplemented with data from the GKS Hydro database. Key among the findings is that apprentices spend up to 20% of their time in training programs, meaning hiring new staff is a big investment for plant owners and operators.

The final area discussed concerned recruiting challenges. Consistent themes included:

  • Recruiting for O&M staff at remote, rural plants is difficult because the local labor pool is limited and relocating staff can be difficult.
  • Finding engineers interested in the hydropower industry is challenging because many newer graduates interested in renewables tend to be drawn to solar and wind.
  • Graduating engineers typically do not have the hydropower-specific knowledge required and need extra training.
  • When attempting to hire journeymen from non-hydro apprenticeship programs, companies find that they may have many skills but require more training in hydropower-related areas.
<em>Key: </em>HS <em>- High School, </em>TSP <em>- Trade Specific License or Post-Secondary Vocational Award, </em>AB <em>- Associate Degree, </em>BS <em>- Bachelor Degree, </em>PB <em>- Post-Bachelor Professional Degree/Certificate</em>
Key: HS – High School, TSP – Trade Specific License or Post-Secondary Vocational Award, AB – Associate Degree, BS – Bachelor Degree, PB – Post-Bachelor Professional Degree/Certificate

Accounting for attrition

Navigant’s final step to date has been to model workforce retirements by asking the interviewed plant owners and operators to predict how fast their current workforce will retire. This starting workforce size was then combined by NREL with data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics to create a Cohort-Component Model, which is a commonly used demographic methodology to forecast population changes.

The resulting forecast for industry retirement rates is shown in Figure 1 on page 20, minus the administrative/clerical labor category, as the assumption is that there will be a sufficient labor force for this. Navigant’s analysis shows that over the next 10 years, at least 1,000 craft-skilled staff and about 500 engineers will need to be replaced across the hydropower industry.

These are not large numbers in what are considered the hardest categories to train and replace retiring employees, but they also do not account for new positions needed as the industry grows.

Conclusions and next steps

We are currently working with DOE and NREL on this and expect to have results mid-2016, corresponding with the release of the DOE’s Hydropower Vision Study.

After this, we will look at the supply of new, qualified labor entering the market and the demand from other industries, such as the broader electric utility industry and other technical industries. In parallel, we are also looking at the non-O&M portion of the industry. Our final report is expected to be made public in the summer of 2016.

During the course of our work, Navigant identified the following best practices and ideas owners and operators can implement now:

1. Prepare now for knowledge transfer: Several companies have large efforts to catalog all of their process, lessons learned, and best practices and are making sure they capture the expertise of their current employees.

2. Engage students at all levels: To create interest in the hydropower industry, some organizations have programs at all educational levels. Examples include the Hydro Research Foundation’s Fellowship Program or Energy Technology programs listed through the Center of Excellence for Clean Energy.

3. Leverage the experience of those close to retirement for training: Some companies we spoke with move employees nearing retirement into training positions to help prepare the next generation of their workforce.


Navigant Consulting would like thank the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Program for supporting this project and Navigant’s project partner, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Table 1: Framework for Labor Categories Table 2: Employment at Existing Conventional & Pumped Storage Plants Table 3: Summary of Recruiting Requirements

Jay Paidipati is a director in Navigant’s Energy Practice. Megan Kuc, Greg Chung, and Rachel Marty are senior consultants for Navigant.

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