Personnel issue: energy industry lacks universal specialists

The large-scale modernization of generating capacities, the transition to digital technology and the development of distributed and renewable power generation awaits the energy industry of Russia in the coming years. The question is whether the industry is well provided with qualified engineering and technical personnel. Employers have different assessments of the personnel issue in the energy sector: some believe that there are enough qualified personnel, others — that there is a deficit. However, all agree that there is a shortage of universal specialists with a deep knowledge of the processes not to give up in solving non-standard and new problems.

Human factor

In the next 6 years, the domestic electric-power industry is undergoing large-scale transformations associated with the renewal of fixed assets and the transition to a digital basis. As Russian President Vladimir Putin said in March in his address to the Federal Assembly, the Russian energy complex “will introduce new technologies for generation, storage and transmission of energy”. “In the next 6 years, it is planned to attract about 1,5 trillion rubles of private investments in the renewal of the domestic electric power industry,” the president said. “Throughout the country, electric power systems are to switch to digital mode. It is necessary to solve the issue of energy supply to remote areas with the help of what is referred to as distributed generation.”

These tasks require not only financial investment and technical support, but also professional staff to manage and realize these transformations.

However, today the provision of energy industry with personnel reserve raises questions. Some of the problems relate to the failure in continuity between the Soviet and post-Soviet schools of vocational education, which occurred in 1990-2000, the impact of which began to be felt a decade later. As of 2010, according to the St. Petersburg Institute of Professional Advancement, with 1,98 million workers in the energy sector in Russia, 35% of them belonged to the age category of 46-55 years, another 8% were older than 56 years. At the same time, 60% of all workers of all ages were representatives of working professions.

Today, the issue of ageing has lost some of its acuteness. The industry actively employs graduates of domestic universities and specialized technical schools. In 2017, the need for specialists with higher education was estimated at 7,000 people, with secondary vocational education — 11,000 people, said Minister of Energy Alexander Novak.

Domestic energy holdings are looking for personnel reserve directly through the employment of graduates, as well as through the organization of specialized programmes in specialized educational institutions, focused on their immediate needs. Thus, Rosseti together with the Moscow Power Engineering Institute (MPEI) train specialists of the power grid complex, “System Operator of the Unified Energy System” (SO UES) and Tomsk Polytechnic Institute implement a project of training master's degree students in “Management of Modes of Electric Power Systems” and “Information Technology in Power Industry”, TGC-16 JSC actively cooperates with the Kazan State Power Engineering University, and so on.

Shortage of encyclopedists

In quantitative terms, the personnel reserve does not cause complaints from employers. “We do not have a shortage of energy specialists,” says Valentin Moskalev, the director of energy complex management at NLMK group (Novolipetsk Steel). “We raise our staff independently: we train students in universities, we are engaged in the professional development of young professionals and programmes of internal corporate training. Therefore, with a competent personnel policy, creating conditions for professional growth, for example, in our company there are a lot of managers who have recently been young specialists — problems with the lack of specialists should not arise.” He notes that “the problem of fall-off in the skills of personnel in a particular industry is as old as the hills.” “I have almost a forty-year experience of work in the power engineering industry, and all these years I’ve heard the same amount of talks about a fall-off in the qualifications and so on,” says Valentin Moskalev. At the same time, he notes that “some problems with the shortage of personnel exist in single-industry towns, in the Siberian region and the actively developing Moscow region, but it is wrong to consider the situation critical.”

However, employers often note a shortage of universal specialists who would understand the production process from soup to nuts and, as a result, able to improvise when solving a problem that goes beyond the template.

In part, against logic, the reason for this is a rather positive phenomenon. We are talking about the computerization of the industry and increasing the weight of information technologies in the energy sector, which entails the merging of these areas of activity and increasing the need for an in-depth understanding of information technologies for power engineering specialists. Last year, Deputy Energy Minister Andrey Tcherezov in his speech at the round table discussion “New specialities in the electric power industry in the era of digital economy” pointed out both the positive aspects and the costs of increasing the importance of information technologies for energy industry in the context of professional training of specialists.

On the one hand, today's penetration of IT into the functioning of primary equipment puts forward completely new requirements “to the quality of training and the formation of professional competencies of power engineers”, said the deputy minister. On the other hand, this process has a downside. “The personnel not only have to understand how to use a computer program to set up and debug the device, but also to clearly understand the principles on which the logic of the device is built,” he reminded. “Therefore, the change and adaptation of curricula to modern realities should in no way affect the amount of basic knowledge in core disciplines.”

“Today, it is very difficult to find competent engineers in the field of design, construction and installation, and this problem is typical not only for the electric power industry and the entire industry of Russia but also for world engineering,” says Eduard Galeev, the director general of TGC-16. “On the one hand, the development of information systems allows to remove this problem to some extent because it is possible to involve information systems and remote monitoring, but, on the other, it leads to even greater degradation of personnel. Even designers today rely more on information systems, automated design systems. This helps to solve standard engineering problems, but when a problem becomes non-standard, non-trivial, there comes a stalemate.”

Today, it is very difficult to find competent engineers in the field of design, construction and installation, and this problem is typical not only for the electric power industry and the entire industry of Russia, but also for world engineering

According to Eduard Galeev, colleagues from foreign companies, with which TGC-16 JSC cooperated within the modernization of Kazan CHPP-3, also confirmed the shortage of professional energy personnel around the world. “The paradox is that now it is easier to find a competent specialist — it is easier to find a middle-level manager, who would lead the installation, commissioning of complex high-tech equipment, in Russia or in Algeria than in Western Europe,” says Mr Galeev. “The reason is that interest in such specialists and, consequently, their number in industrialized countries has fallen sharply.” This explains, among other things, why the company and its subcontractors attracted 80% of Russian companies and Russian-speaking personnel in the construction of the gas turbine plant manufactured by General Electric (GE), he adds.

Mr Galeev tells about the project of comprehensive modernization of Kazan CHPP-3, which finished in June 2017 with the commissioning of the power unit with an electric capacity of 405,6 MW and a thermal capacity of 455 Gcal/h. Choosing the most economical and effective solution, TGC-16 installed at the station 9HA.01 GTU produced by GE that has not previously used in Russia.

“Similar problems were set before us as well,” says Galeev. “Due to that the GTU equipment, which we built together with GE, at that time had no analogues in the world and in Russia, and it was the first project of GE as EPC-contractor in Russia, we also faced the question of training. If the issues related directly to the construction were in the area of responsibility of our colleagues from GE, then the implementation of the functions of the customer, as well as the accepting of equipment into service, was in our competence, and for this, we solved many non-trivial tasks. At the same time, the team has turned out to be young, we managed to form a good team, which was trained in training centres in Russia under the leadership of GE specialists. Initially, it was decided that the general contractor would involve our staff at all stages of construction and commissioning in order to fully familiarize them with the equipment of the power plant under construction. This interaction has fully justified itself. Of course, this does not eliminate the problem that we do not have experience in the operation of the newly installed equipment, and our staff is not familiar with all the intricacies of the process, especially in terms of detecting defects and faults and early preventing of such problems. Here we don't have to reinvent the wheel — the only solution that global energy offers is a remote equipment monitoring, which allows to concentrate product engineers, operators in the monitoring centres, upon request assisting the operational staff in resolving issues and preventing their appearance in the period of operation of the equipment. This is a global trend, and we will not get away from it.”

“Unfortunately, until recently there had been almost no such systems in Russia,” explains Eduard Galeev. “This led to a situation when either the staff operates the equipment at their own risk or transfers the equipment to the monitoring supplier — a foreign company. Now the situation has begun to change, and this is a very good trend because similar monitoring systems of Russian production have begun to appear on the market.”

According to Galeev, the company addressed the training of personnel for the implementation of the modernization project of Kazan CHPP-3 with all seriousness and responsibility. “It should be recognized that at the time of the conclusion of the general contractor agreement for the GTU power unit at Kazan CHPP-3, the specialists of TGC-16 JSC had no experience in the construction of such facilities,” he says. “The fundamental decision on the training of the personnel who could solve a wide range of tasks on construction and commissioning of power capacities was made. As a result, the service for the construction of the GTU was formed at Kazan CHPP-3. The service staff was engaged in the analysis of project documentation, conducted the construction oversight of the performance of the construction and installation works, took part in commissioning of the object. The general contractor also made every effort to ensure that experienced personnel were involved in the construction of the facility. The team was young, worked with zest, all issues were solved together. Despite young age, many employees of the general contractor already had experience in the construction of energy facilities, their experience was useful here.”

The fundamental decision on training of the personnel who could solve a wide range of tasks on construction and commissioning of power capacities was made. As a result, the service for the construction of the GTU was formed at Kazan CHPP-3

Together with the general contractor, the promising training of the newly employed operational personnel for the GTU power unit was organized for both the work with thermal and mechanical equipment and with electrical one and automatic process control systems. The general contractor also provided training manuals, sent to the CHPP-3 the engineers from the companies of equipment suppliers, to transfer both theoretical and practical knowledge to the gaining experience of the GTU personnel. The training in the classroom lasted about two months. “The work done was huge!” says Galeev. “The personnel learned the intricacies of the start-up and shutdown of the GTU power unit, management modes of operation. The commissioning works were carried out around the clock. Our experts and specialists of the general contractor worked shoulder to shoulder — they tried to adopt knowledge from them to the fullest extent.

The leadership of Kazan CHPP-3 organized trips to exchange experiences in the Krasnodar CHPP CCGT-410 MW, Surgut GRES-2 CCGT-400 MW, Shatura GRES CCGT-400 MW, Mosenergo PJSC CHPP-26 CCGT-420 MW for the staff of the GTU at Kazan CHPP-3, at that time they already had extensive experience in operation of CCGT equipment. The work with the general contractor in terms of the construction of the power unit, theoretical training, joint commissioning and start-up works, obtaining practical skills — all this has led to a cumulative effect expressed in the growth of the outlook of the GTU staff.

As a result of these activities, TGC-16 today has a unique team that is able to operate and maintain the GTU equipment and is ready for new tasks, including modernization and new construction projects. At the moment, some of the people from the implementation team are already involved in new projects for the construction of energy capacities in TAIF Group, where TGC-16 JSC participates as a technical customer.”

Electronic energy futurism

Judging by the foresight studies of personnel needs in the electric power industry, the destiny of the future is further deepening of specialization and the increasing importance of digitalisation. Last year, the Youth Section of the Russian National Committee of CIGRE (RNC CIGRE) conducted a survey on the most popular professions of the future in the electric power industry. The experts were presented ten professions, by the results of the survey, the leaders were four — the specialist in digital control system of power facilities (21,8%), specialist in cybersecurity of energy enterprises (21,5%), system engineer of intelligent energy networks (16,8%) and specialist in the diagnosis and asset management of energy companies (15,2%). However, at the session, where RNA CIGRE presented the results of this survey, the head of the Skolkovo Education Development Centre (SEDeC), Denis Konanchuk, stressed that it is not clear “who should move forward the change in the training programme, how programmes should be formed and who should pay for it”. The answers to these questions will set the right vector for the development of the current situation and will be the first step towards overcoming personnel stagnation in the energy sector.

The Atlas of New Professions, developed by SEDeC itself, has two sections related to energy: “energy generation and energy storage” and “power grids and energy management”. In the generation field, a number of professions — the narrow application of the broader specialties to existing power facilities (the manager for modernization of power generation, meteo-power engineer). A number of professions refer, if we generalize, to the field of development, installation and service of local sources and devices at the consumer level (the developer of microgeneration systems, specialist in local power supply systems, designer of wearable energy devices), some of them — to the development of storage and recovery systems. In the field of power grids and consumption management, there prevail the professions related to the design of smart grids and the integration of domestic consumer appliances into the system, as well as various consumption optimizers. At the same time, some of the professions identified in the Atlas were rejected by the RNA CIGRE survey: for example, only 0,3% of respondents voted for the prospects of the energy refilling operator profession, the defender of the rights of electricity consumers and the energy auditor (3,6% each) also did not deserve popularity among experts.

Global experience

The analysis of demand in the world labour market makes it clear that energy specialities are not in the focus of attention today. In the top of the popular specialities, the leaders are IT and the health sector. According to estimates of human resources services Flexjobs and Carreercast, the most popular profession in 2018 — a software and application developer, information security analyst, financial consultant, paramedic, medical administrator; according to Indeed — commercial project manager, full stack developer, artificial intelligence expert.

According to the Office of Labour Statistics (BLS) of the United States, the 10 most popular professions with the highest expected increase in demand from employers by 2026 are social workers, employees of the catering system, teachers of medical specialties (higher and secondary vocational education), paramedics, pet care specialists, cooks, health system managers, information security specialists, finance managers, medical technicians. Surprisingly, the list of the most popular professions does not include specialists capable of carrying out a scientific and technological breakthrough.

What are the prospects for power engineers? Unfortunately, not so rosy. On the one hand, the number of states where this profession is in demand, power engineers occupy a high — seventh — position. Sixteen states are looking for them (calculations by MichaelPage based on OECD Better Life Index). Germany, in particular, shows that there is a constant demand for power engineers. Electrical engineering and electronics is the second largest employer in the country, not least because Germany annually invests about €15 billion in R&D in this area.

On the other hand, according to world agencies, employers' interest in energy professions will not increase significantly in the future.

According to the US BLS, in 2016-2026 the demand for operators of thermal power plants, dispatchers and employees of the power grid complex will not change (it is going to decrease by 1%). BLS explains this by that the increase in electricity consumption will not lead to a proportional increase in the need for personnel due to the concomitant increase in energy efficiency and manufacturability of the industry. The demand for nuclear engineers will grow much faster (by 4%), but particularly in the field of nuclear generation, according to BLS, it will decrease, growing at the expense of the research sector and the management, scientific and technical consulting. The demand for nuclear plant operators will grow by only 1%.

Electrical engineers and electronics engineers show an increase in demand by 7%, but primarily due to electronics. More demanded in the future will be installers of power lines (8%) and electricians (9%), the latter — due to the growing demand from the commercial and domestic sector.

At the same time, the demand for engineering personnel in the US is recovering. Overall, according to forecasts from BLS, the demand for specialists of the engineering industry by 2026 is expected to grow by 7%.

The highest growth rate of demand — 15% — in teachers of engineering specialities. However, in the United States, the driver is the engineering speciality of the construction profession; the same applies to technical personnel, which does not require higher education. According to Indeed, in 2018 the list of the most popular positions for the first time included construction specialities: in 2017 they were absent at all, and in 2018 they immediately rose to the top 5. Among them — architect-designer (5th place), foreman (6th), estimator of construction works (12th), plumbing engineer (14th), head of construction works (15th).

In general, the demand for engineers remains in the world. According to the world economic forum, the architecture and engineering sector will still be a stable employer by 2020. But the main employer is still not energy: it is, first of all, biochemistry, nanotechnology, robotics and materials science.

It is noteworthy that the energy sector includes the two fastest growing professions in the United States in the decade. It is fitters of photovoltaic panels (the demand for them will grow by 105%) and the professional services of wind turbines (96%). However, such growth rates of demand are explained by the low base: the total number of new jobs that are formed in these positions for 10 years — 11,800 and 5,600, respectively. For comparison, the staff of social workers, which occupy the fourth place in terms of growth (38,6%), will expand by 777,600 people.

At the same time, in Russia, the map of demand for energy professions can significantly deviate from the global one under the influence of the launch of the large-scale energy modernization programme. By 2035, about 39 GW of old heat capacity is to be upgraded, which will be financed by increased payments of the energy market. At the same time, as the condition of participation in the modernization programme is 90-100% localization of the equipment used, the power engineering sector is likely to also be a stable employer for graduates of Russian power engineering universities in the coming years.

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