Much of my IEEE volunteer time has been spent participating globally where I often meet with young engineers and professionals to better understand their aspirations and the type of support they are looking for to improve their skills and advance their careers. In fact, I’m often asked why I’m so focused on engaging Young Professionals within the IEEE. The simple answer is because I know, and have known for some time, that engaging with them is essential to ensure the ongoing viability and success of our Institute. Coincidently, my interest in finding ways to engage and encourage young people to pursue a growth career in engineering corresponds to the time when I first became actively involved with the IEEE myself.
When serving as vice president at Commonwealth Edison, and ultimately Exelon, I succeeded an individual who had been leading a significant annual meeting for one of the IEEE societies, and was quickly tasked with arranging this event for roughly 1500 people within a short six-month window. Fortunately, the meeting was a terrific success and I was invited to participate on the IEEE Power & Energy Society Board from that point forward.
It was during this time at Exelon that I began to really grasp the gravity of the workforce challenge in the power industry, and explore ways I might leverage my leadership role in IEEE to improve upon this critical situation. It was clear where I was employed that the technical workforce was getting older, many would soon be retiring, and a qualified pipeline of engineers to fill the positions that would soon be vacated was not at all obvious. In response, I led an effort to collect information from other utilities that began to paint a picture that illustrated a need to expedite power engineering pipeline development. Getting this done became a motivating factor in my run for President of the IEEE Power & Energy Society in 2008 and 2009.
Once elected, I led the development of a comprehensive report defining the problem and recommending that a scholarship program be developed to promptly attract the best and brightest to the power industry. This report was the launching point for the IEEE PES Scholarship Plus Initiative, which has resulted in over 900 scholarships since the program started in 2011, and it has attracted $6.5 million in philanthropic contributions. This has nearly doubled the number of undergraduates pursuing power engineering as a major and has made a significant impact on filling a void due to considerable attrition from retirements. Furthermore, it has increased the Young Professional demographic in the Society and created a new found enthusiasm for a career in power.
So, while we’ve made progress, there’s still more to do. There is a well-known quote that references not “going through life wearing two catchers’ mitts” in order to be able to throw something back. That’s a poignant statement, and one that really needs to be taken to heart as we explore how IEEE can “up the ante” and bring Young Professionals more deeply into the fold of the Institute. In effect, today’s IEEE leaders need to wind up, “throw something back”, and engage with the leaders of tomorrow who will keep the Institute strong, sound and successful in advancing technology for humanity’s benefit.
So, what can be done in the near term to engage Young Professionals? Clearly, we need to set some goals to have them participate on all of the major boards within IEEE. This is going to require building a developmental pipeline supported by executive-level training and mentorship within IEEE. What’s more, we need to leverage the wide variety of technical events, conferences, Hackathons, etc. to promote the IEEE brand, focusing on professional opportunities and creating a buzz around the Institute’s work and the value it brings. In a nutshell, we need to invest in the future, both fiscally and with dedicated human resources, and the first step is to increase IEEE’s engagement efforts with Young Professionals and build upon the good works that have been made up to this point. I think that’s something very worthwhile and rewarding, and it’s a key component of my President-Elect platform moving forward. If you have thoughts or ideas how we can address this all-important issue, please let me know. Working together benefits us all.