Effective Training and Mentoring Programs Are Critical to Power Project Success

The power industry has long been lamenting its aging workforce. While turnover has been happening for years, there remains a large percentage of power professionals on the verge of retirement.

Furthermore, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts faster than average job growth for engineering occupations. That means experienced workers with the skills needed by the power industry are in high demand and can be choosy when looking for new opportunities. They can also demand higher compensation to make a change.

Meanwhile, relative youngsters coming out of college and trade schools, while often having the fundamental knowledge to do power jobs, don’t usually have the experience needed to add immediate value to an organization. The situation is forcing companies to implement workforce development strategies.

Mechanical Dynamics & Analysis (MD&A) is a company that offers a full-service alternative to original equipment manufacturer services, parts, and repairs for steam, gas, and industrial turbines and generators. Like other power industry companies, MD&A has found it challenging to recruit experienced engineers.

“When we started out back in the early 80s, we started out as a company who tended to hire engineers who were very experienced. And back around 2009, we started to realize that those people were becoming a little harder to find,” Charles Monestere, general manager for Technical Services with MD&A, said as a guest on The POWER Podcast.

“So, we started hiring a few engineers a year—some years one person, some years two or three people, maybe even a little bit more—and we developed an in-house program where we would bring in generally recent graduates, within a year or two or three out of school, and put them through some classroom training, but then a structured on-the-job training where we would have weekly meetings reviewing the activities on the job sites,” he explained. “And we’d put the young engineers with very experienced project managers and technical directors that are at the sites—the field engineers who have been doing this for many years.”

Called the Engineers in Training (EIT) program, the instruction tasked learners with becoming proficient at and gaining knowledge on many different technical aspects of the job. “A good part of the work is on the job sites; however, there is some structured classroom training, which is integrated into it,” Monestere said.

In recent years, finding experienced people has become even more difficult, leading MD&A to increase its hiring into the EIT program. “We’re actually targeting about 10 people a year now,” said Monestere. “We’re just hiring in five more this summer, and then, probably another five or so at the end of the year. So, that’s the direction we’re heading.”

Colin Baker, one of MD&A’s newest field engineers, participated in the program and found it very worthwhile. “Working with all these really great and really smart engineers, you get all of their experience firsthand, and you learn what’s right and what’s wrong,” he said. “Also, with all these classes that you’re put through, you use all of that knowledge and you learn where to apply it when you’re actually out in the field.”

Meanwhile, Baker said the program also offered him an opportunity to network within the industry and in the company. Baker said he now has multiple experts he can contact when he runs into problems. “Especially with MD&A, you can always reach out to anyone for help. Everyone is pretty much readily available for any kind of questions or something of that matter,” he said. “I’m still very new in the industry and I’m not going to know everything. I know people who do know most things, so it’s good to get these kinds of resources.”

“There’s a huge network within MD&A,” said Kristin Esterby, the company’s human resources director. “Part of the development of our folks is being available and there for them, and I would say that is something MD&A does better than anyone I’ve seen. We are truly a team.”

To hear the full interview with Esterby, Monestere, and Baker, which contains more about MD&A’s leadership development programs, among other things, listen to The POWER Podcast. Click on the SoundCloud player below to listen in your browser now or use the following links to reach the show page on your favorite podcast platform:

For more power podcasts, visit The POWER Podcast archives.

Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).

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