Hope is not a Plan – Ramping up Tomorrow’s Hydropower Workforce

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Hope is not a Plan – Ramping up Tomorrow’s Hydropower Workforce


September 19, 2022


Stephen Bowers, Project Director, Black & Veatch


Hope is not a Plan – Ramping up Tomorrow’s Hydropower Workforce

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Editor’s Note: The upcoming Clean Currents Conference + Tradeshow provides a venue to expose high school teachers and students to the hydropower technology and soon-to-be-graduating university, community college, and trade school students to career opportunities. Check on the ‘NextGen’ Initiatives underway as part of Clean Currents.

If you are involved in the industry, you have heard the projections for hydropower and pumped storage. Things are going to get busy, soon. After decades of seeing many of the same faces in our industry, the same question keeps arising – how will we grow to support increasing hydropower development and rehabilitation? Better yet, how do we locate, develop, and retain talent and expertise in our industry?   

Proposed Approach 

I tell my team frequently “Hope is not a Plan.” We can’t hope to stay on schedule or hope that our long lead material comes in on time.  To be successful in today’s and tomorrow’s challenges, we must plan for it. To meet the opportunities coming our way, we must consider different options in our planning.  Some things to consider include:    

  • Cross Industry Training 
  • Reaching the Younger Crowd 
  • Retaining Good Talent 
  • Innovation 

Cross Industry Training 

At Black & Veatch we have thousands of engineers in a wide range of engineering fields. One of our recent successes in getting more involved in hydropower projects is rapidly training qualified engineers from other industries.  For example, as we have seen less demand for our engineers supporting the coal generation industry, we have intentionally partnered them with our hydropower engineers on smaller projects.  This allows them to grow in their understanding of hydropower generation and support larger projects in the future.  We have also conducted “Hydro 101” training where a team member teaches a group about a particular component, its function as it relates to generation, and what each discipline’s scope may be at a given facility. For our professionals who are not familiar with hydro units, they get a high level instruction about the units and learn about some of the nuances of hydropower generation. Are you looking at ways to reach across industries?  Keep your eyes open for the available talent coming out of the declining markets and plug them into our growing industry.    

Reaching the Younger Crowd 

Last year my daughter’s science class was learning about energy generation. I coordinated with her teacher to take 45 minutes to discuss hydropower, and after much convincing that I would not tell many “Dad Jokes,” my daughter agreed that it would be acceptable for me to talk to her class.  I set out on a path to convince any young person in the class that hydropower can be an exciting profession.  Did I succeed? We will find out in another 10 years, but one thing I know is that our industry needs to start early and teach the younger crowd that there is a unique spot for them in clean energy generation.  

One thing that day taught me about the young people is that although many of them ride to school across a generating dam every day, they lack any kind of knowledge that about hydropower. For owners of hydro plants, consider the unique opportunity to reach younger crowds by encouraging students of all ages to tour your facilities.  Reach out to your community’s department of education and partner with them in their Career and Technical Education programs.  These are great first steps in peaking our next generation’s curiosity and in cultivating a positive relationship with our future industry leaders.  

Retaining Good Talent 

LinkedIn users publish countless articles on how to treat professionals and make sure that they are happy long-term. Most organizations are all still trying to work through the intricacies of managing remote workers, retaining culture with expanding teams, balancing work-life expectations, and handling multigenerational workforce changes. As workload continues to grow, we cannot lose sight of the most important thing to our company – our people. The last thing we want to do is ramp up, overwork, burn out, and then lose people our valuable professionals.  

Employers must prepare to manage, plan, and schedule projects in a way that allows for advance warning of the potential for overworking professionals.  Doing so ensures proactive vs reactive solutions to potential issues overloading a team. Black & Veatch does all of this; however, we don’t end there.  We also provide our professionals with free, confidential, 24/7 support for everyday issues that may arise for stress, depression, grief, relationship problems, and many other issues.  The bottom line is that our people are our greatest asset, and we must be intentional in our care of them.      


“That’s how we have done it for the past 50 years!” We hear this regularly, and many times it is valid.  However, we must remain curious of alternate approaches that may increase safety, gain efficiency, and move things forward more quickly. Look at the available technology and use it to work in new ways.  One example of how we do this at Black & Veatch is our use of 3D video cameras to tie in people from around the globe for site walkdowns.  This not only makes the walkdown safer but reduces travel cost for us and our clients.    

We have also developed approaches to scalable, new modular hydropower designs that can be used at multiple locations to gain efficiency of scale.  This efficiency of scale approach has been working well in the rehab space with owners rehabilitating multiple units at a single plant.  Once the first unit is complete, the rest can be streamlined. Relying on what we have done for decades cannot be our solution to an increased workload. Adopting innovative solutions will be a key to our industry’s success.  

What’s your plan? 

Let’s plan and think long term.  Clean Currents will be an excellent time for all of us to brainstorm ideas for the industry’s future.  Bring more of your team to Clean Currents this year and get your younger professionals involved and engaged in the industry. 

We can’t simply hope that our increased workload will resolve itself.  Planning and following through with proper execution will be key for all of us to be successful.  

About Black & Veatch 

Black & Veatch is a 100-percent employee-owned global engineering, procurement, consulting, and construction company with a more than 100-year track record of innovation in sustainable infrastructure. Since 1915, we have helped our clients improve the lives of people around the world by addressing the resilience and reliability of our most important infrastructure assets. Our revenues in 2021 exceeded $3.3 billion. Follow us on www.bv.com and on social media.