The IET formed the Power Academy back in 2003 in a valiant response to an expected severe shortage of Power Engineers in the UK. The idea was that employers would sign up to the scheme and provide sponsorship funds for nominated freshers and provide vacation employment and a career path in Power Engineering following graduation. The hope was that as the scheme became established, more employers would join and the numbers of students studying Power would increase. It seemed a nice idea to many at the time but we had reservations from the start.

First, we know that students who set off on a particular career path often change tack either part way through a course or after graduation. They decide to do something different such as computer programming or a lucrative career in finance or one of a hundred other things. The very large companies involved with the Power Academy might be able to cope with this and be able to absorb many different re-shaped career paths within their own organisations but other companies will be less fortunate and will lose some of their sponsored graduates. Small companies see the investment as distinctly risky and do not take part. Even some large companies, who are very aware of their overhead costs, are cautious about affecting their bottom line profits.

Second, we did believe the predictions of future shortages in Power Engineers but we did not believe that projected numbers of extra Power Engineers coming through the Power Academy would make much difference. The numbers were too small and it was a mistake to give the impression that the scheme would address the shortage of Power Engineers and nothing else needed to be done by the IET or employers or anyone else. The numbers of sponsored graduates emerging from the scheme who subsequently make careers in the power industry have indeed turned out to be small. Of the 82 freshers who started in 2004 & 2005, 52 had taken up employment in the sponsor companies by Autumn 2009. We do not know whether all these graduates became power engineers and it is likely some will have stayed on to do post grad work. We do admit, however, that the Power Academy has done some good.

For the universities, the scheme is, we suppose, successful. Money has flowed and Power System groups at the seven participating universities have benefited. Their Power departments are more secure by having a few more students and they have additional protection in the face of university wrangles over resources especially during times of financial stringency.

illustration from IET Power
Academy web site

For the students on the scheme, it is surely a success. Sponsorship money has made it easier to live through the student years and promised vacation employment has meant, potentially, a flying start on careers for those who stay committed to the path they chose four years earlier.

For the 17 employers currently signed up, the benefits are not so clear. The amount of resource necessary to support the Power Academy is, we estimate, high for the eventual payback of good graduates in stable and settled careers within their companies. The cost is not just the amount of cash set aside for students. It is the whole training activity with training departments and the cost of everyone involved. These employers are mostly electricity supply companies, which need to perform financially. These days, they are all muscle, no fat, just lean and mean.

We have watched the performance of the Power Academy over the years with the intention of joining in if the scheme proved to be successful but have concluded that, for us at least, it is too risky. However, we do have tremendous admiration for the graduates that emerge from the Power Academy. Anyone who has followed this route but feels maybe a career with their sponsor is not the best option for them at this time, might like to get in touch with us. We offer careers at ground level involving really interesting technical detail and hands-on operation of control equipment for switchgear and power plant. We will show them the world in every sense.