Wanda Reder – Chief Strategy Officer, S&C Electric Company
“We’ll need people who can establish relationships across departments, who know how to connect with others, listen for opportunities and bring in different skill sets when needed.”
My first experience in power engineering was a summer internship at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association where I summarized funded research projects. I moved from a very rural area in South Dakota to Washington, DC for this summer experience. Here, I gained my first appreciation for the importance of electric power to our standard of living, the vast nature of the electric power system, and the impact that technology can have on our energy usage. Through this experience, it was clear that power engineering is where I was meant to be.
I think young engineers will help to revitalize the power and energy industry. We need to give them the ability to shine.
The power industry is in transition. New technologies are needed to accommodate electric vehicles, connect renewable generation and operate more efficiently. The engineers who will be entering this industry are doing so at an exciting time. Their work will be essential to creating the power system of the future. I’ve been one of the biggest ambassadors to bring more engineers into our field because we’re facing a critical workforce shortage and we need people with creative ideas who can help us advance and apply technology that will modernize the power system.
In the past a power engineer would often focus in a particular area such as distribution or substations. Some would become specialists for certain pieces of equipment like switchgear and transformers. In the future, engineers will increasingly need to understand multiple areas such as controls, power electronics, information technology, markets and public policy. Having a “systems of systems” mindset, understanding how the elements come together will be important. We’ll need people who can establish relationships across departments; who know how to connect with others, listen for opportunities and engage with those having differing professional backgrounds when needed.
Over the years the power system has been built with centralized generation that adjusts to consumers’ varying electrical needs. The operational paradigm is changing as more distributed and variable generation is introduced. Increasingly we’ll be depending on people to work across nontraditional boundaries to get this done. I feel that today’s graduating engineers are much better at making these connections than they were in my generation. I see people who have more interest in working in teams: people who appreciate each other’s differences and approach problems creatively. Of course, young engineers need a solid technical foundation. Beyond that, I see a great potential for success for people who are able to build a professional network, work with others and think out of the box.
Another aspect that’s changing is the role of women in power engineering. I was the first female president of the IEEE Power and Energy Society (PES) in its 125-year history and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the opportunities my career has offered. While the industry has been very male-dominated, I believe the future is very bright for female engineers. Women tend to have strong interpersonal skills, create supportive work environments, reach out to gain consensus and listen to diverse opinions. These are going to be valued skills as our industry meets the challenges of the 21st century.
It is an exciting time to be entering the industry. I invite you to join me and enjoy a dynamic career as a power engineer!