Fueling a more vibrant energy future

Posted on Aug 04 2015 in Commentary

Susan_Brooks,_official_portrait,_113th_CongressBY REP. SUSAN BROOKS

When I started my tenure as senior vice president for workforce and economic development at Ivy Tech Community College in 2007, the energy renaissance that would transform our nation was just getting underway.

Our manufacturing intensive state had just begun seeing the benefits of the hydraulic fracturing revolution that would unleash new economic potential for Indiana. Hoosiers were also taking advantage of our unique natural resources by tapping into renewable fuels like ethanol, wind and solar. And the smart grid was starting to evolve in earnest, incorporating new technology, components and capabilities.

However, when speaking to employers in the energy and utility fields, I almost always heard the same thing: despite offering well-paying jobs and generous benefits, they couldn’t find qualified workers to meet their demands. Adding to their apprehension was the fact that a substantial number of workers with the institutional knowledge to lay lines, operate power plants and engineer infrastructure were nearing retirement age.

That’s when my colleagues and I at Ivy Tech engaged with Indiana Electric Cooperatives — along with electric and natural gas utilities — to form the Indiana Energy Consortium.  Our goal was to identify current and future education-workforce gaps, and create a tailored education and training program that matches employers’ specific needs. Through these public-private partnerships, 1,264 students have earned credentials that have filled job vacancies in the energy fields and helped grow Indiana’s energy industry.

Thanks to a U.S. Department of Energy Grant, Ivy Tech was also able to partner with Purdue University to form the Crossroads SmartGrid Training Program that was integral in educating the next generation of operators, technicians, engineers, and research scientists in the burgeoning smart-grid field.

More work to do
While we’ve achieved much success in Indiana, there’s more work to do across our nation. That’s why I’m so excited about a bill moving through the Energy and Commerce Committee called the Architecture of Abundance.  While the comprehensive bill will modernize our infrastructure, promote efficiency innovations and unleash energy diplomacy, I am most encouraged by the section entitled 21st Century Workforce.

This component will provide financial assistance, technical expertise and educational resources to community colleges, workforce development organizations and minority institutions. It also builds upon the public-private partnership employed at Ivy Tech by working with groups like electric cooperatives to identify areas of the highest need and develop guidelines to best enable students to succeed.

It does this all with an eye toward diversification, making sure that more women and minorities can acquire the skills needed to participate in this dynamic sector of our economy.

Energy renaissance
We are in the midst of an energy renaissance that has the potential to propel our economy to new heights, improve the quality of life for all Americans and dramatically reduce unemployment. However, this cannot happen without a full-tilt push to recalibrate our workforce to meet the unique and highly-evolving skillsets that energy companies require.

That’s why this legislation is so important. The 21st Century Workforce bill will provide Americans with the skills necessary to fuel a more vibrant energy future.

REP. SUSAN BROOKS serves Indiana’s fifth congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. She resides in Carmel.