How to Get Women Energized About Energy Sector Jobs

by michelle ubben

Mamas, please let your babies grow up to be energy workers. Because right now, as it stands, energy isn’t ranking high on your list.

A recent survey of Floridians by Sachs Media Group’s Breakthrough Research division found that parents are not likely to recommend careers in energy to their children. Especially mothers. And especially to their daughters.

That’s unfortunate because the energy sector offers diverse, growing, and lucrative career possibilities for everything from engineers to lawyers to marketers.

The U.S. energy sector employs 6.4 million Americans and accounted for 14% of all new jobs created in 2016. While 55% of these worked in traditional coal, oil, and gas, almost 800,000 were employed in technologies that generate low-carbon emissions – things like renewables, nuclear, and advanced/low-emission gas. The solar workforce increased by 25% in 2016, while wind employment increased by 32%.

Opportunities abound. But public perceptions of the energy sector don’t match the reality.

In our survey, 6 of 7 parents would recommend a STEM career (science, technology, engineering, or math) to their children, but only 1 in 7 would recommend a career in energy. Fathers are twice as likely to recommend an energy career to a son than to a daughter. Mothers aren’t particularly inclined to recommend an energy career at all.

Maybe the way parents imagine energy jobs is limited to a linemen laboring in a bucket truck to get power back on after a storm or a roustabout working offshore on an oil rig.

But, in fact, careers in the energy sector are as diverse as the workforce itself.  Among attendees at the recent Florida’s Women in Energy Leadership Forum, only 19% said their  primary area of study related to the energy industry. The other 81% applied their education in management, law, regulation, finance, technology, or other fields to a satisfying career in energy.

How do we know their careers are satisfying? A full 100% of those we surveyed who work in the energy field said they’d choose the same career if they had it to do over again. In contrast, only 65% of women and 75% of men working in other sectors expressed satisfaction with their choice.

Now in its fourth year, the Women in Energy forum is the brainchild of Gunster Regional Managing Shareholder Lila Jaber. It annually brings together women leaders in the energy field to share their stories, support the growth of women in the sector, and encourage students to choose energy careers.

That’s critical because women are currently underrepresented in the energy sector, making up just 22% to 34% of this field, depending on which jobs are counted. That’s far short of the workforce as a whole, where women make up 47% of workers. Yet according to our survey, women working in energy feel significantly more inspired and respected than women in other sectors, suggesting it’s an outstanding place for women to stake out a career.

So why aren’t young women flocking to the energy sector? Maybe the industry hasn’t done a great job of telling its own story. Only 11% of women surveyed said they’d ever considered it. Those who hadn’t considered energy cited these reasons: 41% weren’t aware of the opportunities there, 22% didn’t know anyone working in the field, 18% didn’t see a way to apply their skills, and 10% said it was too male-dominated. Also, 21% said they didn’t consider energy because they weren’t strong in math or science, suggesting that they weren’t aware of the diversity of career choices possible within energy.

Then again, maybe it’s the mamas – only 8% of them encouraged their daughters toward energy careers.

It seems the energy industry has a job to do in telling its own positive story. And mothers may be just the place to start.

Imagine a day without water

by Lila A. Jaber

With the turn of a faucet knob, most Americans expect and receive clean, safe water. We drink it, we cook with it, we clean with it, and our kids play with it.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency data shows the average American family uses more than 300 gallons of water per day at home. Most of this water is used without understanding how we receive it or the process that is used to treat it. The lack of knowledge about the value of water and the true cost of this critical service has led to chronic underinvestment in water infrastructure in many areas of the country.

In the Tampa Bay region, water is frequently on the forefront of our minds. The ability to move water across the region and the state is key to our ability to live here. Water infrastructure is needed in keeping our businesses operating smoothly and getting our homes clean water for drinking and bathing but it’s also critical in moving water away from our homes and businesses during times of thunderstorms or hurricanes to prevent flooding.

The nation’s water infrastructure is in dire need of upgrades and replacements. This is due to the age of the infrastructure, 30 percent of which is between 40 and 80 years old, as well as the increasing demands of our growing and changing population.

The American Water Works Association’s report, Buried No Longer: Confronting America’s Water Infrastructure Challenge, estimates that the needed improvements to our country’s water infrastructure will cost over a trillion dollars in the next 25 years. The need for investment in water infrastructure transcends just underground pipes. Treatment facilities, pumps and storage tanks are all also in need of large investments. Since water is the only utility service that consumers ingest, we should all consider that a day without water could result in a public health and safety crisis, not to mention the potential economic impacts.

To add to the challenge, there is no “one size fits all” solution.

Each geographical region has different needs. Replacements and upgrades will differ drastically amongst both water system sizes and regions. Citizens in smaller communities, for instance, could be greatly impacted because costs are shared amongst fewer citizens.  For older cities and towns, the cost of replacing aging and leaky pipes, which can result in water losses of 25 percent to 35 percent, can be a significant burden.

Fortunately, there are several ways we can work toward solutions. Among them are water conservation strategies, efforts to raise awareness of the value of the services water and wastewater utilities provide, and public and private sector partnerships.

With respect to water conservation, every person can contribute by exercising a water-saving habit. Education is also an essential component and together, we can strive to raise awareness of water issues and use this knowledge to advocate for improved policy. We can also encourage public-private collaboration or consolidation to alleviate the highly fragmented water industry, which can help reduce costs on consumers.

In recognition of the “Imagine A Day Without Water” campaign Oct. 10, I urge everyone, no matter their role, to act today. The longer we wait to address our water challenges, the less time citizens have to secure the investments needed, leading to potentially higher price tags to accommodate a sustainable water infrastructure.

To this end, I encourage everyone to find a small way to show they value water. Whether it’s learning a new water conservation tip, spreading the word about critical water issues, or collaborating toward sound water policy — “water” we going to do about it?

Sb 540 Is “a Fix Looking for a Problem”

by Lila A. Jaber

With the unveiling of his final budget proposal, Gov. Rick Scott is aiming to restore $30 million previously cut from the Florida College System, along with adding a $30 million increase. This effort not only highlights his support of higher education, it is a tip of the hat to the contributions from our state college system to Florida’s economic strength.

So it comes as a surprise that SB 540 — “Community College Competitiveness Act of 2018” — is up for hearing once again. The bill proposes changes to a college system that works in support of Florida’s nontraditional students and technical workforce.

As one requirement, SB 540 asks our state colleges to graduate students within two years to avoid any “duplication” of the mission being served by state universities. Data collected by the Florida DOE and Board of Governors, however, tells a different story.

All our state colleges serve Floridians by offering high-quality, low-cost options to students who need more flexibility than what the state university system might be able to provide. In a March 2015 analysis of data provided by DOE, the Board of Governors and the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability — the research arm of the Florida Legislature — profiled the typical students served by state colleges and universities.

The diversity of options and affordability offered by state colleges attracts students of or above the age of 25 for every three out of four students. Contrast with 73 percent of upper-division university students being under the age of 25 in Florida state universities.

The majority of state college students are enrolled part-time, employed full-time, and eligible for need-based grants, returning to school to gain additional, targeted job skills. The data appears to indicate that these students take longer than two years to complete an associate’s degree as a direct result of their part-time status.

Equally important: The flexibility and affordability of programs at state colleges has in no way deterred attendance rates at Florida’s state universities. In fact, it appears that state university enrollments have increased by 54.5 percent since state colleges began offering baccalaureate degrees.

With all considered, SB 540 emerges as a bill that misses the point. While the state college system leaves the rate of state university enrollments relatively untouched, its positive impact on a different end is clearly visible. It provides support not only to Florida’s nontraditional students, but to its economy, thereby bridging the gap in STEM education.

In early 2016, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity identified 180+ unique STEM career paths in our state, the majority of which can be supported by lower-cost, job-oriented engineering and technical degree programs.

I urge the Legislature to continue to honor the contributions of our state college system by voting against these bills.

A True Commitment to Utility Service

by Lila A. Jaber

It is refreshing to see the many ways the energy industry’s commitment to service manifests itself, including in the form of educational opportunities for those eager to join the utility workforce.

At the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE) Florida Chapter meeting a couple of weeks ago, I met William “Bill” Bosch with the Florida Campus of the Northwest Lineman College. He spoke about the number of ways the College facilitates funding opportunities for prospective students and the training the College affords young people to work in the energy industry. Not long after, I heard the news that the Kissimmee Utility Authority (KUA) board of directors established an electrical lineworker scholarship in honor of its former chairman, Reginald Hardee. The annual scholarship will fund a nine-month internship and is a tremendous opportunity for all graduating seniors interested in entering the electric utility industry.

As energy charges forward to find increasingly effective ways of serving the needs of our neighborhoods, there is a similarly ever-increasing need for skilled professionals in the industry. Many are stepping forward to help fulfill this need. I encourage you to stay updated on this upward trend and get engaged however possible, whether it is by being sponsors of such initiatives, benefiting from these efforts as part of our up-and-coming workforce, or finding your own ways to support the momentum.

Thank a Lineworker

by Lila A. Jaber

Amidst the post-Irma “tweet storm,” there was a visual that made me pause: two lineworkers from Gulf Power, a Florida Panhandle utility, descending a power pole after replacing a transformer in a St. Augustine neighborhood outside Gulf Power’s service area. Having traveled to that area to provide extra support, the utility team lead expressed his group’s eagerness in helping the residents in any way possible to “get their life back to normal.”

His sincerity made me think of all the lineworkers whom I have had the privilege of meeting over the years. What each of them had in common is a strong commitment to service. At no time has that commitment shone brighter than when we weathered the storm together in recent days.

Hurricane Irma ravaged our state, stealing power from the majority of us. Our lineworkers – as prepared as they could be to handle the worst-case scenario – faced what The Washington Post rightly dubbed a “Herculean task” in getting our neighborhoods restored and returned to routine. As always when duty calls, these men and women left their own families behind in the wake of the storm to help families like yours and mine. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with paramedics, firefighters, police and the like, their dedication during and in the days since Irma has renewed the dialogue on how lineworkers, too, should be designated as “first responders.”

Yet, despite all their preparation, sacrifice and grueling shifts, the aftermath of Hurricane Irma has seen the rise of another kind of surge. Sadly, some who benefit from these lineworkers’ services are now critical of the pace of restoration. The task of restoring power is not as quick and certainly not as simple as one might think when the issue is spread over such a large area so dense with trees and power lines that serve as hosts for electricity, telephone and cable. As they work to support the needs of nearly 20 million Floridians, it is important that we extend our willingness to learn, understand, and unite with these dedicated professionals in solidarity as they do what they do best: supporting each and every one of us.

It is easy to overlook our lineworkers’ passion as we go about our lives as usual in the comfort of our homes and workplaces. But it is times like these when we must recognize the comforts they forgo to support us in living our daily lives. These hardworking people deserve all the grace and compassion of our Southern hospitality.

To them, I say thank you. #ThankALineWorker

A Moment to Say Hello and Share Some News

by Lila A. Jaber

I write in the hope that you’ve safely weathered the storm. To those amongst us who are part of the power restoration process, thank you for all that you do on our behalf!

Following another engaging Forum this past summer, I wanted to share just some of the latest successes in our #FLWomenInEnergy community. I’d like to congratulate the following individuals who, through their tremendous achievements, exemplify the strength that is sure to propel the energy industry forward for years to come.

• Pamela Rauch, Vice President of External Affairs and Economic Development for Florida Power & Light Company, has received the “Leading Change” award from the GCI Worldwide Corporation. This award recognizes Ms. Rauch as an extraordinary woman leader who is “the premiere example of the impact that one woman leading change can make in the community.”

• Xia Liu, the Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer of Gulf Power, has been promoted to a new role as Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer, and Treasurer of Georgia Power. Ms. Liu has served in leadership positions of increasing responsibility throughout her career in energy, earning well-deserved placements on the Business to Business magazine’s 2012 “Women of Excellence in Atlanta” list and the Georgia Diversity Council’s 2013 “Most Powerful and Influential Women” list.

• Amy Zubaly was named Executive Director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA). In a statement on the FMEA website, Clay Lindstrom, FMEA President and Fort Pierce Utilities Authority General Manager, remarked, “As we celebrate our 75th anniversary and rich history, it’s fitting that Amy – the first woman to serve as the association’s executive director – lead us into the future.” He went on to commend Ms. Zubaly’s long record of service as well as in-depth understanding of issues important to FMEA members.

• Cari Coats and Karen Dee, Co-Founders and Managing Partners of the Accendo Leadership Advisory Group, have launched the LEADForward Roundtables initiative to help accelerate the leadership development of promising women. LEADForward Roundtables are peer support groups comprised of up to 15 high potential female leaders, all at a similar professional stage. Ms. Coats and Ms. Dee, both accomplished C-suite leaders and certified executive coaches, lead each roundtable as well as provide individual coaching in a great service to our community. Please click to learn more about the initiative and access the application.

Please continue to share your accomplishments and updates with FWELF as we move forward to inspire, educate, and motivate. As we look to the upcoming year, Gunster Law Firm, in partnership with our title sponsor, Gulf Power, and all of our sponsors, has begun preparations for the 2018 Florida’s Women in Energy Leadership Forum.

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