Like any company in growth mode, we are constantly on the hunt for new employees with the skills needed to meet the technical and operational needs of our customers. Recently, we added two very talented, engineers who have done an excellent job utilizing our technology to help energy customers save money. Both are recent graduates of the University of Vermont and want to learn the energy industry and participate in the development of distributed alternative energy assets.
And one other thing, both are women.
While this may not be as much of a revelation as it was a decade ago, the fact remains that the energy industry is still very much a male dominated field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 23% of the workforce in electric utilities are women. Tangent is not a utility but utilities are a fair proxy for the broader energy industry which is facing a steep decline in its workforce.
The following provides an excerpt from an August 2013 Harvard Business Review blog post that exemplifies this trend.
While the labor challenge is especially stark in the U.S., utility systems in most advanced economies are facing similar demographic dynamics. New workers are not entering the market as fast as veterans — particularly engineers — are retiring. In the U.S., for example, a backlog of baby-boomer retirees is expected to turnover upwards of 40 percent of utilities’ 400,000-strong workforce according to a study by the Task Force on America’s Future Energy Jobs produced by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC).
One logical step for an industry that is losing workers is to recruit from a broader pool of qualified applicants. In the case of the energy industry, the solution seems simple — hire more women. The problem is, this may be easier said than done.
In discussing these topics with our newly hired engineers, I was surprised and a little disheartened to learn how few of the students in their graduating class were women. After a little digging through resources on the Society of Women Engineers website, I was discouraged to learn that only 15 – 21 percent of the bachelor’s degrees earned from 1990 through 2010 were awarded to women. I was equally discouraged by the fact that there was no evidence of an upward trajectory. After a five year peak at over 20 percent from 2000 – 2004, the trend has slipped somewhat to just over 18 percent in 2010.
Tangent has supported programs to promote technology as a field of study for middle school aged girls and is exploring the possibility of extending the programs to other regional schools.
Speaking as a member of the engineering community, we need to actively encourage more women to consider engineering as a career and support the success of those who do. Throughout my career, some of the best engineers that I have had the privilege to work with have been women. Filling our ranks with more women like them is not about meeting a quota or fulfilling a hiring objective; it is about finding enough skilled people to sustain the growth and quality standards of the energy industry.