Bruce Peterson Receives National Workforce Champion Award

February 2023

Minnesota’s own Bruce Peterson was honored this year with the Workforce Champion Award at the Center for Energy Workforce Development's National Summit in Washington D.C., November 2022. 

We reached out to Bruce to ask him about his work and what lies ahead. 

Bruce Peterson receives an award

Photo courtesy of Minnesota State Energy Center of Excellence.

You are Chair of the Minnesota Energy Consortium. Tell us a little bit about that organization. 

First, I must correct that I am no longer the chair of the consortium, that baton has been passed to Rose Patzer. Rose serves as the Executive Director of the Minnesota State Energy Center of Excellence, housed at Minnesota West Community and Technical College.

The Minnesota Energy Consortium was started in 2005. Originally the meetings were a partnership between leading Minnesota utilities and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities coming together to address the anticipated workforce shortages in technical positions of the utilities, specifically power generation. This group has continued to meet since that time and works to address a variety of workforce issues.  We have also grown to include several state government agencies engaged in our work — DEED, Dept of Commerce, Public Utilities Commission, etc.

On the college side, we have strived to develop programs that produce graduates with the needed skills to fill those technical positions. Programs have been established, redeveloped and expanded to address these needs in Instrumentation and Controls, Power Generation Operators, Solar Assessment, Installation and Operation, Wind Energy Technicians, Ethanol and Bio-Fuel Production, Building Efficiency Technology, Substation Operators, Powerline Techs, and Gas Technicians.

From the industry side, we hold two meetings annually to discuss the current state of the industry, share efforts being undertaken to address the issues, and to explore new and projected opportunities to continue that work. Further, both educators and industry partners have engaged with the Center for Energy Workforce Development, a national organization addressing similar challenges across the industry.

You have made recruitment of diverse students a priority of your work, with a focus on lineworkers. Can you speak to the challenges and opportunities of this effort?

Back in 2015 we were studying the national data which showed the powerline technicians across the country were 88% white males. At that time, our stats in Minnesota were over 90%. As a result, we started looking to identify some of the key factors that have contributed to that statistic, while also looking at the population demographics in our state. What became evident to us who were studying the challenges were several systemic issues we needed to address to make a positive change.

First, we looked at what support systems we could stand up to address the unique challenges of the populations we hoped to attract. To begin this work, we connected with a group in Arizona doing similar work in high schools in the Phoenix area. The Legacy program group was consulted and ultimately hired to assist us developing and delivering a robust support system and training program to prepare students in urban core cities for potential positions in the utility industries.

The unfortunate element in this programming occurred with COVID and the resulting shutting down of these efforts for two years. While we still had a few students engaged, we recognized the need to redouble our efforts to address this challenge. A new direction was developed to establish the Energy Careers Academy, a partnership between the Minnesota State College system and led by Xcel Energy from the utility side. The core tenet of recruitment from the urban core remained. To address the most significant barrier of location, a new training site has been established to bring this programming into the core city. The ECA operates a college program site in northeast Minneapolis on an Xcel property. The partnership with MState Community and Technical College provides students access to college support services. We are now 60% toward completion of this pilot program preparing students for positions in linework careers with graduation scheduled in May 2023.

Are there specific trainings or resources you want to highlight for students or other job seekers?

It is important to emphasize this programming is at college level, and we are offering complete diploma programs to our students. At this point we are engaged only in lineworker preparation. We have goals to add additional programs in the coming years. 

Through the generosity of Xcel Energy, we have established a strong base of equipment and instructional resources. The future of the program will require us to seek additional resources to improve our equipment and materials to assure the best preparation of our students to meet the industry needs. We continue to explore opportunities to expand those resources and strengthen our educational programs.

What do you see in store for 2023?

We recognize the powerline field is going to be significantly challenged in the years to come. As more solar and wind sites are developed, the needs for further development of power transmission infrastructure will be critical to bringing those distributed systems into full use.

Further, as we see growth in the electric vehicles in our state, the distribution network bringing power to our business and homes will need increased capacity. The future of work in the lineworker field will continue growing in the coming years.

Beyond that, as these technologies come to scale, there will be need for technically prepared workers to install the charging stations and new services at businesses and homes to accommodate these electrical needs.

For me personally, I hope to stay engaged in developing new opportunities to prospective students who are located in these urban areas where these specific educational opportunities have not existed. The energy industry is totally critical to our economic future, and connecting our young people to these career opportunities is a passion for me as my career winds down.

What makes you hopeful about the clean energy sector looking ahead?

We are experiencing the greatest transition ever in the energy industry. The rate of change is incredible, perhaps beyond what we can anticipate. Yet, living in Minnesota, where we have high value on our environment, we are moving forward to reach goals that will preserve our quality of life for generations to come. This exciting future of opportunities is what keeps me engaged and working to build these opportunities for our young people.

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