Total Energy USA
November 08, 2012
Houston, Texas American industry needs a workforce skilled in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and nowhere is that fact more readily apparent than in the energy sector. Championing the cause and driving the national STEM conversation is Brian Kelly, Editor and Chief Content Officer of U.S. News & World Report. We asked Mr. Kelly, who will be one of the high-profile keynote speakers at Total Energy USA in Houston, November 27 – 29, to weigh in on the issue.
Q: Let’s start broad. What is STEM, and why should we care?
Kelly: STEM is an acronym that represents the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. It’s also shorthand for an important issue that is key to the U.S. economy, namely, the growing disconnect between the skills that employers need in an increasingly technological world and the talent—or lack thereof—that our education system produces. That growing gap affects all industries, but it’s particularly concentrated in the energy sector, where a technology revolution is creating an accelerated need for STEM-skilled workers in the process. This is, simply put, about filling jobs—and it’s a problem that must be solved if we are to carry our global competitiveness into the future.
Q: What is being done to solve this challenge?
Kelly: There is a burgeoning industry of schools, community groups, companies and policy makers who are working on the STEM problem. Until recently, this has been essentially a series of grass-roots initiatives, with no cohesive national conversation, but we are beginning to change that. For instance, in June of this year, U.S. News & World Report hosted the first national STEM conference in Dallas. It turned out to be a unique gathering of a surprisingly broad community of leading educators, corporate and non-profit executives and government officials—who all realize the urgency of making progress on an issue that is at the heart of America’s economic future.
Q: What led U.S. News & World Report—and you, as Editor and Chief Content Officer—to become so involved in this issue?
Kelly: About a year ago, the publication launched a special project to examine the problem of why, at a time of high unemployment, there are so many jobs going unfilled. The answer, of course, was that American workers lack the necessary skills for those jobs. As we began to dissect the topic and untangle its complexities, we decided to move beyond just reporting on it, to playing a role as an information resource—for both policy makers who are looking for solutions to a significant national problem and consumers seeking educational skills that will land them good jobs. One key need that became apparent was the lack of a national forum for the many committed groups that are working in this field, which is why we launched the STEM Solutions conference.
Q: You mentioned the STEM challenge as it relates to the energy industry. What is the potential impact on our sector?
Kelly: There will always be the need for skilled and unskilled labor to operate rigs and equipment. But a technology revolution is rapidly reshaping the energy sector as companies deploy smart grids, establish high-tech mission control centers, and incorporate wireless sensors, predictive intelligence and other cutting edge innovations. As a result, workers skilled in math, science, engineering and computer backgrounds are and will continue to be in high demand to fill lucrative technology-related jobs in the energy field. This demand crosses all sectors—fossil, nuclear and renewable. The need is critical and ongoing, and in my opinion, we can’t address it fast enough.
Q: You’ll be speaking at a keynote session focused on the STEM issue at the upcoming Total Energy USA Conference. Can you give an idea of what the session will entail?
Kelly: The session is called “Job Creation and Workforce Education.” I’ll be joined by Michael Amiridis, professor of chemical engineering and provost of the University of South Carolina, Dr. Les Shephard, Director of the Texas Sustainability Energy Research Institute at UT in San Antonio, and Mary Spruill, who is the executive director of the National Energy Education Development (NEED) project. What we teach students today will impact how energy companies make decisions in the future. It will also impact whether you have the qualified prospective employees you need or not. So we’re going to discuss the connection between job creation and the workforce, and take a good look at what’s on the cutting edge of energy education. We’ll also be addressing the STEM shortage and what the risks will be if we ignore the writing on the wall.
Q: Who would benefit from attending your session?
Kelly: Anybody who has a stake in or impact on the future of the energy industry would do well to sit in. I would particularly like to see representatives from colleges and universities, federal and state governments, and major energy users in attendance.
Q: You’re also moderating a session called “Energy Production and Efficiency in Buildings,” with renowned architect Gordon Gill and Jonathan Kraft, president of the Kraft Group. What can you tell us about that?
Kelly: Forty-one percent of primary U.S. energy is consumed by commercial, institutional and residential buildings—most of which are old and inefficient. This session will offer some solutions to the energy drain, both in terms of retrofitting old existing buildings, and introducing more stringent standards for new ones.
Q: What was the reason you agreed to be involved in the Total Energy USA conference?
Kelly: I see this conference, among other things, as a key opportunity to further the STEM conversation with an audience that has much to gain from its success. Involving the whole energy community in the STEM challenge is vital—and this is the first time that the entire industry, with all sectors represented, will come together in such a comprehensive way. It will be a unique, well-constructed forum that should facilitate great discussions about robust and diversified energy solutions. I’m looking forward to being involved in a valuable and stimulating event.
ABOUT TOTAL ENERGY USA: Total Energy USA is the groundbreaking event that addresses the greatest uncertainty in the energy industry today––the cross-fertilization of energy sectors and technologies. The new conference and exposition is developed by the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau (GHCVB) and will be held annually in Houston beginning in 2012. To-date, sponsors of Total Energy USA include Select Sponsors NRG and Shell, Contributing Sponsor Waste Management, Sponsors Halliburton, Platts, PKF and Winstead.
For more information, please visit www.TotalEnergyUSA.com.
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