Research and Software Grant to Close Skills Gap

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Skills shortage and demographics threaten business transformation potential for utilities

There is a growing need for data scientists to handle the big data which has flooded utility systems over the last decade.

There is no doubt that data analytics is front of mind for utilities’ decision-makers. Only recently Gartner cited it as the top IT priority for Chief Information Officers and Chief Financial Officers.

According to McKinsey Global Institute, the US could be facing a shortage of 190,000 people with analytical skills by 2018 and McKinsey isn’t the only organization that has spotted a potential shortfall of data scientists. In a separate study of 500 data scientists and Business Intelligence professionals, EMC discovered that 65% of the respondents expect demand for data scientists to outstrip availability over the next three years. Moreover, 83% of respondents believe that new tools and emerging technologies will exacerbate the demand for data scientists.

In PwC’s 2013 US CEO survey, 54% of all global Chief Executive Officers said that skills availability is a potential threat to business growth. In power and utilities, those numbers are probably higher.

Closing the skills gap

Responding to the potential crisis, data analytics firm SAS has stepped up with a research and software grant, including energy forecasting technologies, to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Energy Production Infrastructure Center (EPIC). Multidisciplinary engineering coursework, combined with practical data applications, are expected to attract new students to the field.

“Utilities face a massive business transformation toward digital technologies with increased analytic requirements. On the other hand utilities also claim one of the highest average professional-employee age of any industry,” explains Johan Enslin, University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Energy Production Infrastructure Center Director. “Their looming retirement threatens a loss of valuable knowledge.”

Located on the Charlotte Research Institute Campus, University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Energy Production Infrastructure Center aims to enhance the technical and business workforce for the global energy industry. SAS joins Duke Energy, AREVA Inc. and Siemens Energy in funding the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Energy Production Infrastructure Center programs.

The SAS grant will be devoted to the Energy Analytics Research Laboratory led by Tao Hong, Graduate Program Director and University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Energy Production Infrastructure Center Assistant Professor at the university to support education, research and development in advanced analytics applications for utilities as well as oil and gas.

Building experience and confidence

The new SAS grant will offer students invaluable hands-on experience with the analytics software that many energy companies use for operations and planning. Mr Hong points out this will give students a tremendous advantage in the energy job market. He adds that students can go into the market place with more confidence as they will have had an invaluable experience with “state-of-the-art” technology.

University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Energy Production Infrastructure Center courses will use the SAS® software to introduce descriptive, predictive and prescriptive analytics and their applications in energy forecasting, demand response analytics, outage management, energy trading and risk management. The software will be used in courses from August this year.

“We have already seen utilities recognize business value from SAS Energy Forecasting and SAS Visual Analytics. By integrating these technologies into the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Energy Production Infrastructure Center curriculum, we are enabling the university to prepare the next generation of energy analysts,” said Alyssa Farrell, Product Marketing Manager for Energy at SAS.

She adds: “Competition for talent is increasing, and utilities will want to consider hiring University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Energy Production Infrastructure Center’s engineering graduates.”

Utility business is not attractive

While we agree that this course helps students find work in the utility sector, we do wonder how utilities are going to attract a new generation of tech-savvy young graduates and "digital natives" to do the course in the first place. Most of these college students aspire to work at the likes of Google and Microsoft.

To revamp their profile and attract a new generation of employees, utilities need to show that the vital, complex service they provide is one befitting the most enthusiastic and talented of individuals.

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