Trouble Attracting Qualified O&M Personnel?

Trouble Attracting Qualified O&M Personnel?

Staff Reports

Originally published in Combined Cycle Journal | OSUIT launched its two-year Power Plant Technology Program in 2007. Instructor Terry Hanzel, who has power plant and oil-and-gas industry experience, told the editors that about 15 students are accepted into the program annually; typically a dozen will graduate with an Associate of Applied Science Degree.

Motivation for the program was provided by American Electric Power (AEP) which believed a technical vacuum would be created by looming retirements. It approached OSUIT with the idea of developing a collaborative program between industry and academia to address the coming need for quality technicians.

AEP and OSUIT sought out other power producers in the area to work with the institute’s instructors and administrators to ensure the curriculum, training methods, and equipment remained current and were properly aligned with the latest technologies and methods used in power plants.

A Power Plant Technology Advisory Board (sidebar) was formed, comprised mostly of Oklahoma plant managers, training directors, and HR professionals. Today, virtually all of the large utility and IPP generating plants in the state are represented on the board, chaired by Rick Shackelford, plant manager of Green Country Energy. Chad Jester, a board member and Operations Manager for Oneta Power LLC, will participate in the CCUG workshop as a panelist.

“We have industry directly participating in the program with curriculum development,” Shackelford continued, “donating equipment for training purposes, hosting new-student open houses at power plants, serving as guest speakers and instructors, and offering paid internships.” The plant manager described the OSUIT curriculum as “combining the science and technology of power production with realistic assignments, hands-on instruction in state-of-the-art lab spaces, and internships at power plants prior to graduation.” What makes OSUIT different than most technician development programs, he explained, is its formal degree program coupled with real-world field experience.

There are 10 power plants within about an hour’s drive of the school and they are visited regularly to reinforce classroom lessons (Fig 1). Plus, each student participates in a 15-week plant internship after successfully completing the first year of study.

“The internship experience is where students take what they’ve learned in the classroom and labs to a higher level and apply it to real-world situations,” Shackelford said. “It’s also where they learn if power plant technology is where they want to build their careers.” Hanzel added, “The transformation seen in the students after their internship is amazing. They return to the classroom with the realization that what they are learning will be used on the job, confident that the education they are receiving will help them land a meaningful job at a good salary in a secure job market.”

One recent graduate said everyone he graduated with from OSUIT has a job. That helped him convince his brother to enroll in the program. Another grad added that he had a friend with a four-year degree who couldn’t find a job; the OSUIT grad sent out three resumes, got two responses, two interviews, and two offers.

At the conclusion of the internships, the OSUIT instructors ask plant managers and supervisory personnel for feedback on what aspects of the curriculum should be improved. Shackelford said this information exchange is vital to the success of the program given demands for technology advancement, the impact of regulatory oversight, etc. The instructors also maintain an open communications network with graduates to get their thoughts and ideas from the workplace.