Real Stories from the hydropower industry on how building relationships with their local universities has contributed to building their local workforce in hydropower
The U. S. Bureau of Reclamation appreciates having a close relationship with local universities because it gives them a deeper understanding of its curriculum. It also provides an inside look at the learning objectives and how the Bureau might contribute. Additional educational focus on each course leads to accelerated development of their employees. Personal interactions aid in understanding and are beneficial to both partners. It keeps the curriculum relevant, fresh, and completes the academic application feedback loop. Technical education drives the local economy. A stable, skilled workforce industry settles where they can succeed. A vital learning infrastructure supports the needs of business and enables their success. Their first step was to research institutions that provided the training they were looking for, reach out to the program manager, and establish a training plan. As the hydropower community is relatively close to other networking opportunities, the work followed. The most successful education/industry partnerships meet each other half-way. Both partners bring benefits to each other. The industry must realize there is as much effort into building a program on their end as the institution providing it.
What Academia is saying about their partnerships with local companies:
Oregon Institute of Technology
“Most of my connection to the hydropower industry has been through Lee Sheldon, a former adjunct faculty member and previous mentor for the HRF Research Awards Program and thorough communication with Bree about events like Hiring for Hydro. We have had some students get into hydro through the Army Corps of Engineers entry-level engineers programs. Also, we maintain close relationships with some alumni who have gone to work for BPA (which connects the hydro world, if it isn’t a hydro producer itself).”
Hope Corsair, PhD
Department Chair, Electrical Engineering, and Renewable Energy
Associate Professor, Renewable Energy Engineering
The mission of Oregon Tech’s Office of Educational Partnerships and Outreach (EPO) is to support institutional and state goals by cultivating and maintaining partnerships with area high schools and connecting faculties, community colleges, and universities to provide increased educational opportunities and resources for students.
Centralia College began using the "Corporate College Alliance Model" for conversation between industry and academia, which grows organically. It starts with the hydropower industry reaching out to academia or from academia reaching out to the industry. If you get labor involved to reach out as well, you are sure to succeed. Centralia recommends that someone take on the role of convener between the hydropower industry and education. Centralia's recommendation is to locate the advisory boards within the local universities and get connected to them. It needs to be someone's job to reach out to the universities and build that relationship and focus on keeping the relationship. Hold regular quarterly calls to maintain relationships. Establish an expanded advisory board to include academia and industry to continue the conversation.
Portland State University has developed and continued to nurture their relationships with local businesses by offering “on campus” opportunities, university research involvement, and opportunities to sponsor student capstone projects. Frank Gooverts, Director of Career Services, believes that these three things have ultimately led to success in local organizations hiring Portland State graduates. Frank shared that he has worked as an engineer in the area for well over 20 years ... “you get a lot of connections that way. We also see local alumni reaching back out to the college.(a majority of our graduates stay local)”
Frank’s recommendation to other academic institutions is to “take care of your students, give them a great education and help them jumpstart their career, and they will be thankful for life.”
They have seen real results from their relationship-building efforts as they have several students now working at US Army Corps and Bonneville Power. Several of them gained employment because of connections they made at career fairs or events they attended at Portland State.
Director of Student Career Success
Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science
Portland State University
Avista Utilities also builds relationships with the advisory boards at local universities. They typically have one of their officers or senior Directors on the engineering industry advisory board and the business industry advisory board. They have local Area Business Managers, which are almost like a lobbyist with their local government partners who have the universities way up on their lists to manage. Additionally, Avista is engaged with the undergraduate programs in terms of funding and sponsoring, participating in career fairs and other student events, and participating in various industry advisory boards for multiple departments and colleges.
Chelan County PUD works with three universities and one community college. They appreciate having access to intelligent, enthusiastic students who are eager to learn and contribute. Students work with Chelan as interns for their senior projects when they are interested in learning about the hydropower industry. This relationship allows Chelan to show them what they do and what the students' degrees will enable them to do in the hydropower industry, whether as engineers, data scientists, biologists, or communications specialists. Additionally, having a relationship with these local schools helps them promote the hydropower industry to the next generation of promising talent! The relationship began as a networking opportunity. Ruth Erwert, the HR Manager, met one of the professors they work with now at a STEM conference where they discussed opportunities to work together, and it came to fruition. In another instance, her alma mater contacted her after learning that she worked at Chelan County PUD. The community college is local and developing an engineering program where Chelan can find the right year-round intern talent, which proved to be a good reason to connect. This relationship is a win/win as the universities have potential jobs to send graduating students out into the world to pursue. Chelan recommends that the university invite local businesses into the classroom or bring the students in to tour their facilities. Build relationships. Many schools require a capstone or senior project in their technical majors. Local utilities could sponsor those students with their projects.
Black and Veatch have a partnership with a local "Summer Academy" - which typically meets in person during the summer; however, due to COVID19, they were forced to cancel the Academy. Despite this unexpected change, it ultimately led to a deeper partnership. They began sending job/internship postings to the summer academy in the absence of the summer program. The teachers promoted the opportunities to students interested in engineering primarily. From there, Black & Veatch began a "day in the life of engineers" experience for students. While the students do not receive course credit, they receive education in hydropower and tangible real working experience. This program includes six mentors to help the two students undergoing this "new" program. The students began the program by sharing their interests, which assisted in directing their experience. The students were assigned a challenge question. The students used tools provided software and calculations to determine a solution. Following the challenge is a capstone project, typically consisting of a turbine or generator. The students present their "DIY" turbine or generator presentation to the powers that be. With this being a new program, if it proves to be successful, it will continue. In addition to this new program, Black & Veatch invest effort, time, and resources into their paid internships. They have a team that puts a lot of effort into producing content to acclimatize the interns to their corporate culture and prepare them for the summer. The interns are put into groups of five or six mini cohorts to network and grow together. Allowing them to support one another introduces camaraderie and keeps them on track with their peers. The interns participate in one on one meetings, mini-projects, and presentations, which provide the students with a real "hands-on" taste of what the organization is like and whether they will be a good fit. The internship program is successful because of the effort Black & Veatch put into it. They recruit hard, participate in career fairs at target schools, and most interns get a job offer, and most of them accept them. Those interns are then well-positioned to launch into the first year of their Black & Veatch career. Additionally, they know Black and Veatch, and Black & Veatch knows them, so they skip over having to use the first few months of employment to determine if they will be a good fit.
Interview with Andrew Wodoslawsky, PE., M.Eng., MBA
Hydro Mechanical Engineer, Hydropower & Hydraulic Structures
Black & Veatch