On June 20 and 21, SECO Energy along with Duke Energy and Ocala Electric Utilities partnered to bring the Fifth Annual Youth Energy Academy to Marion County teens. Industry experts created an environment for students to explore and discover careers in the energy industry. The event was held at the College of Central Florida’s Hampton Center and Ocala Electric Services.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, more than 40 percent of the current workforce in the electric and natural gas utilities will retire within five years. The average age of energy industry employees is over 50. Marion County Schools, the CEP, SECO Energy, Ocala Electric Utilities, Duke Energy and Clay Electric realizing the need for future energy industry employees assisted in forming the Power Generation Academy (PGA) at Dunnellon High School. PGA Instructor Don Slocum dropped by the Youth Energy Academy to provide the students’ enrollment and program information.
Employees from SECO, Duke and Ocala Electric volunteered countless hours teaching, presenting and sharing their knowledge and experience with this year’s Youth Energy Academy students. Representatives from Siemens, College of Central Florida, Boys & Girls Club, CLM CareerSource, Lockheed Martin, Cheney Brothers and the three electric utility providers worked together to make this event an education success for attendees.
At this year’s two-day event, students gained essential knowledge related to the array of jobs, careers and occupational requirements in the energy field. Student activities covered a variety of subjects such as how electricity travels from the generation plant to homes demonstrated by Duke Energy’s Engineer Derick Farfan, and a live demonstration by Duke Energy’s Ronnie Bailey of restoring power during an outage. Students learned the difference between soft and hard skills via a presentation from Heaven Colon, CLM CareerSource, and delved into high-skill, high-wage careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) by taking a closer look at robotics. Students also met Forest High School EMIT program students – EMIT stands for Engineering and Manufacturing Institute of Technology.
The students were mesmerized by the Tesla Model 3 electric vehicle (EV) driven to the Academy by a Southern Alliance of Clean Energy (SACE) representative. A surprise visit from NFL Steelers draft pick Ulysees Gilbert III, his brother Uriah Gilbert who plays for Bethune Cookman University, and a previous youth energy academy student, Maurice Gilbert, who is currently a student at Florida A&M University provided the teens with substantial life coaching skills and drove home the importance of time management skills. The Gilberts reminded the participants that attending the Academy is a valuable investment in themselves.
On day two, attendees toured the City of Ocala electric utility operation center and water treatment plant. Utility Director Mike Poucher demonstrated the effects of texting while driving through a presentation of car accidents that involve utility poles and how to exit a vehicle safely after an accident. Participants also rode in bucket trucks and learned about Ocala’s fiber-optic internet system. Finally, participants learned about drones and how they are used in the energy industry.
As a supporter of STEM-based projects, SECO was an event sponsor and also provided funding for transportation expenses to the Boys and Girls Club that bussed the students for their exploration tours. SECO Energy CEO Jim Duncan stated, “The Youth Academy aligns with two key cooperative principles – Education, Training and Information and Concern for Community. The energy field offers a multitude of diverse careers just waiting for talented candidates to apply. Participating in youth education programs gives SECO a hand in crafting its future workforce and offers local, talented youngsters employment opportunities close to home and family.”
The Florida Chapter of the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE) incorporated a Youth Energy Academy model focused on, but not limited to, minority students in St. Petersburg, Jacksonville, Orlando, and Ocala. “Each year, we gain the interest of our emerging workforce by proving new career paths and sessions to let students know what the energy industry offers and how they can create career paths of their own. In 2012, we established Youth Energy Academy programs in the Northeast and Central regions of the AABE Florida Chapter with the intent of beginning programs in the Southeast and Northwest regions in 2020. We won’t be able to solve the energy industry workforce shortage overnight, but since inception, more than 1,500 students have been exposed to the energy industry through the Youth Energy Academy,” stated Kathy Judkins, AABE Florida Chapter President. The AABE Florida Chapter is led by members from seven Florida energy providers, as well as several entrepreneurs and business partners.