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2021 Predictions and Trends – The pandemic forever changed how we train, and the election results may bring about new climate change legislation

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Guillermo Sabatier's picture
Director of International Services SOS Intl, an HSI Company

Seasoned training and compliance specialist with over 23 years of experience in the electric utility industry and a successful track record of designing, implementing and managing training...

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  • Jan 27, 2021 4:15 pm GMT
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2021-01 - State of the Industry, click here for more

As a tumultuous 2020 finally came to an end, we look at 2021 with guarded optimism. The pandemic, political upheaval and social unrest marked 2020 as one we would just as soon forget but also respect as a valuable teaching experience as we look to 2021 and beyond. Two trends impacting the electric utility and energy industries stand out most glaringly: (1) changes to how we train as a result of the pandemic, and (2) the political shift in Washington resulting in new climate change legislation.

The pandemic forever changed how we train

For the electric utility industry, much like many other industries, personnel training during the pandemic took on a new format, with courses and live simulations conducted remotely and online. While the quick pivot and leveraging of remote technologies was impressive, not all participants enjoyed the same benefits. As system operations personnel were either sequestered together with their shift partners or forced to work remotely, utilities sometimes struggled to provide initial training for new hires and grappled to deliver effective On-the-Job Training (OJT). Thankfully, the industry reacted, adapted, and eventually overcame those challenges. Unfortunately, initial and on-the-job training challenges will likely persist as we anxiously begin to navigate this new year with the awareness of our vulnerabilities to the emergence of a new pandemic. 

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According to Marcus Casey of the Brookings Institute, we will likely realize a remote learning component going forward as a part of training models ranging from higher learning institutions to vocational job training. The challenge lies in providing adequate training for employees entering the utility workforce as their first career or transitioning from jobs displaced by the pandemic. 

Additionally, as Marcus Greene of Ascentis, writing for TrainingIndustry.com tells us, the use of informal and untracked training is no longer enough, given the challenges of remote learning during the pandemic. This is yet another change we can expect to see more of - the use of Learning Management Systems (LMS) and Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) compliance. These training platforms allow employers to manage and deliver more structured, standardized, and repeatable training, especially for initial and OJT. Hopefully, this positive impact will be felt not only in the energy industry, but across most of the workforce.

Political shift, climate change legislation renaissance and how will it impact our industry

If pandemics and social unrest weren’t enough, the energy industry must also prepare for what the political shift in Washington, DC has in store, given its preference for climate change legislation. Sweeping environmental legislation might not be as easy to achieve given the close numbers in the House and Senate.   Even if the Biden administration decides to initiate bold executive actions, these can be easily overturned by any future Republican administrations. Ted Norhaus and Alex Trembath of the Breakthrough Institute, writing for Persuasion, share the idea that the only way forward is for executive actions and legislation that paves the way for federal technology procurement. They also go on to say that as nascent technologies become available, federal incentives to procure and develop these will be highly innovative and game changing for the industry. However, these small steps may not be enough to satisfy most in the environmental community. To succeed, an effective climate response needs support from a variety and often opposing group of stakeholders and economies.

In addition, President-elect Joe Biden can unleash a $7.8 trillion electric infrastructure investment.  Plans in this study allude to modernizing aging infrastructure, expanding capacity, and access to renewable energy zones. Accomplishing these plans, however, call for regulatory changes ushered in by new mandates imposed by the Department of Energy, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the Department of the Interior.  There is no question there will be new climate change legislation.  Perhaps, not as drastic as originally feared by some, but hopefully beneficial to the industry as well as the economy.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 27, 2021

According to Marcus Casey of the Brookings Institute, we will likely realize a remote learning component going forward as a part of training models ranging from higher learning institutions to vocational job training. The challenge lies in providing adequate training for employees entering the utility workforce as their first career or transitioning from jobs displaced by the pandemic. 

This is going to be so fascinating to watch, the end result of utilities being thrust into a new environment that no one really saw coming. I would think the right path forward will be a balance-- mixing the best of virtual and in-person, with the results being the better than all one way or the other. Do you see that happening, Guillermo? 

Guillermo Sabatier's picture
Guillermo Sabatier on Feb 10, 2021

I agree, and as technologies evolve and connectivity improves, we might see some interesting changes in the near future.  There is still a strong preference for in person, instructor led training (ILT), but that is definitely balanced by remote, live ILT if the conditions permit. 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 10, 2021

I'd say there's also cost & efficiency gains to be made by not having to fly out workers or trainers for in-person trainings when not necessary-- still do those when necessary, but it doesn't have to be each and every training!

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Jan 30, 2021

Apparently, the Biden administration will not move ahead with the Yucca Mountain plan for storage of spent nuclear fuel.  That being said, the new Energy Secretary has not made any clear statements regarding the future of nuclear energy, nor the strategy for decarbonization. 

"I want to push on carbon management solutions to get to the goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050," Granholm said. "There is a series of technologies that the Department of Energy is working on to reduce and manage carbon emissions and I think that is an important piece of the energy mix to make us energy secure and to have us reach the goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050."

 But, the administration is only ten days old.  I think there is little doubt that wind and solar will continue to enjoy support.  And, given Biden´s record on the subject, he will not close doors on R&D that may change the game with respect to nuclear.

Guillermo Sabatier's picture
Guillermo Sabatier on Feb 10, 2021

Many think nuclear is an important part of the portfolio mix, and part of that infrastructure improvement funding may very well include R&D into those technologies.  It will be interesting to see how nuclear will be applied and dispatched given the variability of renewables, however. 

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