(Opinion) Connecticut’s utility sector is facing a watershed – a flood of retirements and a drought of skilled workers.
With nearly one-third of the workforce at the region’s utility companies eligible to retire within four years, Southern Connecticut State University and Gateway Community College have joined forces to develop a unique pipeline to prepare workers to fill those anticipated openings.
The collaboration with the two institutions was the brainchild of Larry Bingaman, the president and CEO of the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority (RWA). He approached us three years ago with the idea of establishing this type of program. Subsequently, representatives of other utility companies supported the concept.
“About half of RWA employees will be eligible to retire in the next several years,” Bingaman said. “But this trend within the industry extends throughout New England and to other parts of the nation. An aging workforce – combined with changes in regulations, technology and the push toward sustainable energy sources – pose new challenges for the utility industry as a whole.”
Considering what’s at stake, Southern and Gateway have joined forces to create a pathway for students to receive the education necessary to fill the projected managerial and technological job openings at the state’s water, wastewater, electric and natural gas companies. Thought to be the first of their kind in the nation, these programs should fill a void in the development of future utility leaders and help meet the needs of the state workforce. After all, helping to train the next generation of Connecticut’s skilled workers is a strategic commitment for both schools.
At Southern, we have created a specialization in public utility management with tracks in water, electric and gas operations within our Bachelor of Science degree program in business administration. At Gateway, we have developed a certificate and an associate degree in public utility management.
Many students are likely to begin at Gateway, attain an associate degree, and transfer to Southern in their third year to complete their bachelor of science degree program with the specialization. Existing and incoming students at Southern may opt to start their program there. Internships at various utility companies in Connecticut will be offered to students as part of the new collaboration.
The departments facing the most pressing hiring needs in the public utility field include customer service, field operations, employee relations, information technology, purchasing, finance and quality assurance, according to a study conducted by our schools. The average salaries range between $55,600 and $75,833, depending upon an applicant’s experience and educational background.
The SCSU-Gateway partnership is a win for the utilities, our institutions, and our students. The utilities gain a pool of qualified candidates to assume management and technical positions. Southern and Gateway have a new curriculum that meets the needs of local utilities. And, students gain new career opportunities in an industry that many may not have considered.
Many young people graduating high school may not think of working for a public utility. But, in time, they just might.
Dr. Joe Bertolino is president of Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven and Dr. Paul Broadie is president of Gateway Community College in New Haven.