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November 05
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Changing technologies

Energy & utilities are going strong

Energy demand is spurring construction of new plants, coaxing more production out of older facilities and opening good career paths for nimble techies

Engineers in the energy field get into product development, utility plant design, construction and ops, even oil-field production


Leroy Ferguson

Leroy Ferguson is a senior project engineer at the Amerada Hess Port Reading refinery, "one of the cleanest refineries," he says.

BP's Danielle Broussard helps manage ten very, very large oil wells.

BP's Danielle Broussard helps manage ten very, very large oil wells.

The ever-increasing energy demands of our nation and the world keep the energy and utilities industries growing. At the same time, a maturing technical workforce is opening opportunities for capable engineers to help lead these industries into the future.

Diversity is an important aspect of the new recruiting wave. Both individual companies and industry organizations are making diversity a priority.

The Edison Electric Institute (EEI, www.eei.org, Washington, DC) is an industry association whose U.S. members generate some three-quarters of the electricity produced in the country. EEI's utility workforce planning network (UWPN) shares diversity strategies among EEI members.

Mary Miller, EEI VP of human resources, notes that "Many of our companies have made outstanding efforts to increase diversity in their own communities." The UWPN initiative, she says, will make these efforts more widespread. "We're developing templates for companies to use, so they don't have to reinvent the wheel every time they go recruiting."

Most engineering jobs call for electrical, mechanical or civil engineers. Experienced folks are needed for senior technical and management positions. New grads are also in demand and make up about half the recruiting mix at most companies.

Diversity helps Westinghouse conduct its worldwide business
Steve Tritch, president and CEO, notes that Westinghouse Electric Co (Pittsburgh, PA) conducts business throughout Europe and in Korea, China, Japan, South Africa and North and South America. Clearly, "Diversity is essential to our success," he says.

The company's recruiting programs are focused on organizations and universities throughout the world, attracting increasing numbers of minorities and women. "The effect has been positive both within Westinghouse and for our customers and partners," Tritch says.

Taking note of its maturing workforce, Westinghouse has emphasized recent grads in its hiring. The company does not have a set age for retirement, and some employees continue as consultants after they do retire. "They are a key resource for us to tap into," says Dallas Frey, manager of staffing and organization development.

Although no new nuclear power plants have been built in the U.S. in more than twenty years, Westinghouse continues to build plants in other places around the world. Its engineers and technicians also perform a variety of services at existing U.S. plants.

The company recruits engineers with nuclear and other engineering backgrounds. Frey explains that MEs, EEs and ChEs often learn reactor design concepts after they join Westinghouse.

ME Di Tang designs nuclear reactors at Westinghouse
Di Tang

Di Tang

Di Tang received his BSME from the Pennsylvania State University in 2001 after a summer internship at a nuclear power station. He started at Westinghouse's Monroeville, PA site, working with a program that "uprates" nuclear plants by analyzing and modifying existing equipment to produce more power.

Tang recently moved to a new reactor design team of about thirty people. His special job is evaluating structural components to be sure they meet Nuclear Regulatory Commission criteria for earthquakes. "The basic design is complete, but there's a lot of detail and specs to work on," he says.

Westinghouse assigned Tang a mentor when he first joined the company. Now he's part of a substantial cohort of young engineers. He and his co-workers go rafting, biking and rock climbing, and play volleyball in the company league.

He also talks to school and community groups as part of the Westinghouse speakers bureau. And he's been involved with the Westinghouse science honors institute, helping high school students work on projects.

Tang moved to the U.S. from mainland China when he was nine. He keeps up his Mandarin, which will be an asset if the company gets contracts with China.

"The most important thing I've learned is not to be afraid to take on responsibility," he says. "When you go into something you've never done before, you come away with a broader base."

AEP is hiring
American Electric Power (AEP, Columbus, OH) looks to hire an equal mix of new grads and experienced engineers. The focus on clean air and gas technology, for example, mandates engineers with advanced skills.

AEP serves more than five million customers in eleven states. It's the largest electricity producer in the U.S., with more than 36,000 Mw of generating capacity and 19,000 employees.

ME Kristopher Coombs is a construction manager for AEP
Kristopher Coombs

Kristopher Coombs

Kristopher Coombs Sr is one of the company's four construction managers, working in the project and field services department and reporting to the director of construction. He usually has from two to five projects in various stages of construction at any time. Right now they're all focused on environmental upgrades.

The company is investing $4.1 billion dollars over the next five years to install remediation equipment at various plants. Project support engineers, materials handling engineers, site coordinators and others have more than doubled the size of his department in the past year.

"We operate as a true matrix organization," Coombs notes. "I report to the director, but I have a dotted-line connection to the project manager at each site. It takes cooperation and coordination from all the players to make it work."

Coombs meets with teams for each project, and spends three days a week in the field. He needs to understand what equipment and contractors are available and coordinate how they fit into the project. "A lot of what I do is developing a construction sequence," he explains.

Coombs received his BSME from Duke University (Durham, NC) in 1981 and started out supervising a manufacturing line at Procter & Gamble (Cincinnati, OH). A few years later he went to the University of North Carolina for an MBA, and got a summer job at a power plant. "I fell in love with that environment," he says.

He completed the MBA in 1986 and qualified as a professional engineer in North Carolina. He's also a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

He went on to fourteen years with Carolina Power & Light, now part of Progress Energy (Raleigh, NC). He worked in central project management, and handled projects at several stations.

Next he joined Illinois Power, now Ameren IP (St Louis, MO), as manager of a coal-fired station, then helped complete a new gas turbine plant. It was such fun that he decided to move from the plant management track to construction.

Along the way he picked up experience as a welding engineer, plant chemist, security coordinator and outage manager. "To be effective in construction, you have to understand the whole gamut," he says.

AEP's large, complex environmental improvement projects enticed Coombs to join the company this past February. His thorough understanding of the integration of plant systems makes him effective in keeping everything in sync. "Every discipline of engineering is involved," he says. "If I make this change, what am I going to affect? I want to make sure I don't miss any important details.

"Construction is a different field from engineering," Coombs concludes. "I've worked at many jobs to understand how the whole plant functions. It keeps things from getting stale."

EE Earl Harris manages ops and engineering at SDG&E
Earl Harris

Earl Harris

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E, San Diego, CA) is building two new power plants in Southern California. The company is recruiting mid- and senior-level EEs, CEs and MEs, as well as interns and new grads.

Meanwhile Earl Harris, ops and engineering manager for SDG&E's operations district in upscale Orange County, is keeping the lights on at the existing infrastructure. He leads a team of six troubleshooters, four locators, a field engineer, a district engineer and a preventive maintenance admin.

"Our job is where the rubber meets the road," Harris says with a smile. "We are the first ones to make contact with customers about complaints, and we do our best to make the initial contact the final contact."

Harris grew up in rural Mississippi. When he received his BSEE in 1987, he was the first person in his family to graduate from college.

He spent his college summers working at Weyerhaeuser, and took a job with Hughes Aircraft (El Segundo, CA) after graduation. One of his several mentors "helped a country boy fit in," Harris says gratefully.

Harris was an associate engineer in Hughes' rotation program. One of the program requirements was work on an advanced degree, and Harris completed his MSEE at the University of Southern California in 1991.

He moved on to control systems supervisor at Baxter/Hyland Labs, a pharmaceutical company which is now a division of Bayer. In 1993 he joined Nova Power & Automation, which designed and built turnkey power plants. He spent 1994 as an independent consultant, then went to work at Nestl´┐Ż USA (Glendale, CA) as a project engineer.

The job required frequent travel. Harris was married now, and as children came along he looked for a more stay-at-home job. In 1998 he found one at the San Diego site of Sony USA (New York, NY). At last he had the opportunity to work with robotics, a favorite subject in college.

In 2002 he joined SDG&E, and took on the Orange County district this February. He enjoys the "family atmosphere" among the utility's 3,000 employees. "It's not only technical, but social as well," he says. "I see it as an obligation to offer new employees the same welcome I got when I came here."

SDG&E's workforce includes a wide range of diversity. The utility supports the Sally Ride Foundation that encourages girls in engineering, and recruits at HBCU Howard University (Washington, DC).

SDG&E employees recently held a fundraiser to help an orphanage in Kenya buy a bus and start a medical clinic. "We have some of the most generous employees," says Lisa Zelkind, SDG&E human resources rep.

SE&A has slots in production, ops and R&D
Siemens Energy & Automation (SE&A, Atlanta, GA) is one of some nineteen Siemens operating companies, part of the German-based multinational giant's automation and drives group. SE&A plans to hire more than 200 engineers this current year.

"We will continue to foster an inclusive work environment where all employees' contributions are valued and their development is nurtured," says Aubert Martin, SE&A president and CEO. Diversity, he notes, is a mainstay of the company-wide "valuing people" initiative.

The company is filling slots in product management, manufacturing engineering and other production, operating and R&D roles. In addition to engineering qualifications, Six Sigma, Kaizan and SAP are prized, says Aisha Wright, diversity specialist.

ME Dr Lei Schlitz is a director of engineering at SE&A
Dr Lei Schlitz

Dr Lei Schlitz

Dr Lei Schlitz leads a team of ninety engineers at SE&A. She is director of engineering for the development of new residential, industrial and commercial electric power distribution products. The team also works to improve existing products and is responsible for the safety devices that protect the products.

"We own the technical aspect of all these products," Schlitz says. "Whenever there's a problem in the field that's related to product integrity, it's our issue."

More than half the engineers on her team are based in Atlanta. The rest are in Ohio, Texas and Mexico. Schlitz travels to confer with them, spending about a quarter of her time on the road.

Schlitz earned her BSME in her native China and came to the U.S. for grad school in 1991. She received her MSME from the University of Wisconsin in 1993.

She began work at the Milwaukee innovation center of Eaton Corp (Cleveland, OH), and started on a PhD in plasma physics from the University of Wisconsin. When she completed the PhD in 1998 she joined the Plainville, CT industrial systems plant of General Electric (Fairfield, CT) as a development engineer. She moved up to project leader, then program manager at GE's global research center in Niskayuna, NY.

In 2001 she was recruited to work at SE&A as development manager for an engineering group. She was attracted by the $110-million budget for the four-product project she would be heading up. She took the job, and spent the next eighteen months in crisis mode to get the work done. "If you have an end goal, you have to do what it takes," she says.

"They liked the way I really drive for results, but I was carrying too much on my shoulders. Now I've learned to pick my battles. Pretty soon people respect you because you know what you are talking about," she says. One of her triumphs was the adoption of Six Sigma methodology and its extension to all SE&A engineering work.

Schlitz married a fellow grad-school student, who now has his PhD and works for a computer startup company. A six-year-old daughter and Schlitz' mother, a retired geology professor, complete the family. Schlitz is a member of IEEE and a graduate of the MindField mentoring group.

BP needs experienced engineers
As prices rise, new oil fields are opening and new technology is wringing more production out of existing fields. "We're working on projects now that couldn't be done when the price was low," notes Jeff Lelek, subsurface staffing manager for BP (Houston, TX).

BP used to be British Petroleum. It changed its name as its reach became more global after mergers with Amoco, Arco and Castrol. By 2004 it was the largest non-government-owned petroleum company in the world. Its Houston office has 3,500 employees and handles exploration and production across the U.S. and in Sakhalin, Russia. BP's exploration and production businesses anticipate about 400 jobs in the next year.

Engineers with five to fifteen-plus years of experience are needed in areas like production, reservoir, drilling and completions, surface ops and project engineering. U.S. projects are located in the Gulf of Mexico, Texas, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

ChE Danielle Broussard: on rotation at BP
Danielle Broussard

Danielle Broussard

Until this past summer, Danielle Broussard was a production engineer at the West Lake complex of BP's East Texas asset in Marshall, TX. The job was one of several she held in BP's three-year challenge rotational program for new hires.

At West Lake, Broussard was part of the East Texas resource team of a dozen techies taking care of eight gas fields with 1,000 producing wells. Broussard herself was accountable for two fields and 200 gas wells.

The team optimized production from existing wells and maintained an active drilling schedule to add more gas wells to the asset. In the year Broussard spent with the East Texas team, fifteen new wells were added to just her two fields.

"We thought of the wells as our babies," she says with a reminiscent smile. "We had to make them all happy. Some never needed attention, but others needed us all the time."

Her new assignment is in the Deepwater production business unit's Na Kika project in the Gulf of Mexico. She'll be a surveillance/production engineer, a role similar to what she did with the East Texas team.

In the Deepwater situation she and two other production engineers will tend to only ten wells. One of the wells, however, produces as much gas as the entire East Texas asset. Pumping from 6,000 or 7,000 feet underwater is far different from on-land ops, she notes, and costs are much higher.

Broussard's mother always encouraged her to consider engineering, and after a high school summer program at Louisiana State University, Broussard tended to agree. Technical interests are certainly in the family: her father had a career in the Air Force, and her brother, now an Air Force captain, has a dual bachelors in math and aeronautical engineering.

Broussard received a BSChE from Louisiana State University in 2002. As an undergrad she interned with ExxonMobil, BP and ChevronTexaco. She joined BP after graduation, entering its rotation program as a facilities engineer for the Atlantis project of the Deepwater business unit.

Next she worked in the San Juan South asset operating out of the Houston office. She met with outside operators and partners like ConocoPhillips and Burlington Resources, travelled to Farmington, NM and Tulsa OK, and began to learn about managing BP partner relationships.

In her time off, Broussard likes to participate in community activities. She volunteered at the BP children's festival in downtown Houston and has ridden her bike from Houston to Austin twice in BP's two-day MS fundraiser. At another event she walked all night in a "relay for life" fundraiser for cancer research, and she's tutored children at a local elementary school. She recruits for BP at Louisiana State and NSBE.

Schlumberger to hire 2,000
Worldwide energy services company Schlumberger (Houston, TX) plans to hire nearly 2,000 engineers across its global locations in the next year. Relatively local candidates are preferred, although the company is open to transplants from other areas. The official language is English, but ability to speak local languages is important.

"We have always been very diverse ethnically, with employees of 140 nationalities," says Deanna Jones, director of personnel for Schlumberger Information Solutions and diversity champion. "We're working with other corporations to find ways that women can be more involved in science and technology."

The company organizes its engineers broadly by function: field, R&D and petrotechnical engineers. Most science and engineering backgrounds are OK for field engineers. R&D engineers usually need advanced degrees. The petrotechies need petroleum engineering, geosciences and computer sciences.

ME Ana Zambelli is a Schlumberger ops manager of well services
Schlumberger's Ana Zambelli and husband Matheus sightseeing in Latin America.

Schlumberger's Ana Zambelli and husband Matheus sightseeing in Latin America.

Ana Zambelli is Schlumberger's ops manager of well services for Latin America South. She supervises operations in Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia; the 400 people in her unit work in offshore and onshore ops for major oil companies, including Shell, ChevronTexaco, Repsol-YPF and Petrobras.

Zambelli is also responsible for all safety and environmental aspects of her districts. She oversees personnel moves and the careers of the employees in her unit. And she visits all her oil company clients every week.

"I listen to them to make sure we are providing the quality of service they require, and pinpoint any issues they need help with," she explains.

Zambelli received her 1995 BSME from Rio de Janeiro Federal University (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). She responded to campus recruiters and took a job as a Schlumberger field engineer. "Saying it was hard made me want to do it," she says.

She began with cementing services, shoring up older oil wells, then moved to fracturing and matrix acidizing operations. She advanced to engineer in charge of a location in northeast Brazil.

Her next step was to Houston as a training manager for well services. She traveled in the U.S. and Canada sharing her training with new engineers.

After a stint as field services manager for a Louisiana operation she moved on to managing quality, health, safety and environment for West and South Africa, working from an office in Angola.

Her next stop was in Edinburgh, Scotland, U.K., as a member of a group developing real-time oil-field project management. While there, she did her coursework for an MS in petroleum engineering from Heriot & Watt University; the degree will come through this year.

In 2003 she was sent back to Brazil as an integrated project manager, working for the Latin America South ops manager. Early this year she took over the ops manager's job.

"With Schlumberger you don't stop in the same job for very long," she says. "You have the opportunity to work in ten different companies without leaving this one company."

Zambelli is active in the Society of Petroleum Engineers in the U.S. and Associates for Project Management in the U.K.

She married in 2001 and is expecting her first child. Her husband works in marketing publicity and accompanies her on her transfers, with help from Schlumberger's spouse associates group.

Amerada Hess has ME, ChE and CE jobs to fill
Amerada Hess (New York, NY) is looking for ChEs for refinery process work, MEs for project work and some CEs for terminal ops, says Thom Sella, human resources manager for the company's Port Reading, NJ refinery near Woodbridge, NJ.

Engineers can also work at the Hovensa refinery in St. Croix, VI, a joint venture which Hess staffs. St. Croix is a huge, highly sophisticated refinery. The gasoline it produces meets even California's tough environmental regulations.

ME Leroy Ferguson: senior project engineer at Amerada Hess
Leroy Ferguson

Leroy Ferguson

Leroy Ferguson has been senior project engineer in the Port Reading refinery since 1997. He designs and estimates projects and assists in fabrication and installation. "Port Reading is a unique refinery, a niche refinery and one of the cleanest refineries," he says.

When Ferguson graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School in 1956, he went to work instead of college. In 1962 he joined Beekman Hospital (New York, NY) and stayed for seventeen years, rising to operating engineer.

He earned an AA in electromechanical technology from Staten Island College in 1976 and moved on to a 1979 BSME summa cum laude from Pratt Institute (Brooklyn, NY), working full time throughout and taking time to head up the school's engineering honor society.

"Pratt is only fifteen minutes away from my high school, but it took me twenty years to get there," he says.

Along the way he married and raised four children. One son attended Staten Island College with him.

When Ferguson got his BSME, ExxonMobil brought him on as a project engineer at its Bayway refinery in Linden, NJ. More than fourteen years later, when Exxon sold the refinery, Ferguson went to work independently as a contract project engineer. Then in 1997 Hess lured him to its Port Reading refinery.

Based on years of experience, Ferguson knows well the economic fluctuations of the oil industry. He always cautions young petroleum engineers to get additional education and, when offered an opportunity, to consider its possible long-term outcome.

The industry can always use folks "who are truly interested and have investigative minds," he says. "Just maybe, one of them will take us into a new future."


Christine Willard Heinrichs is a freelance writer who lives in Madison, WI.

Check the latest openings at these diversity-minded companies.

Company and location Business area
Amerada Hess
(Woodbridge, NJ)
Petroleum products
(Columbus, OH)
Electric power generation
(Houston, TX)
Petroleum products
Consolidated Edison Co of New York
(New York, NY)
Investor-owned electric, gas and steam service to 3 million-plus customers in NYC and Westchester County, NY
(Richmond, VA)
Electricity, natural gas and related services
Entergy Corp
(New Orleans, LA)
Electric utility
FirstEnergy Corp
(Akron, OH)
Electric and gas utility; related products and services
LG&E; Energy LLC
(Louisville, KY)
Gas and electric utility
MidAmerican Energy Co
(Des Moines, IA)
Energy from diversified fuel sources
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
(Golden, CO)
U.S. Department of Energy national lab for renewable energy and energy efficiency
Pacific Gas & Electric Co
(San Francisco, CA)
Gas and electricity for 15 million people in northern and central California
Progress Energy, Inc
(Raleigh, NC )
Energy supply in North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida
San Diego Gas & Electric
(San Diego, CA,subsidiary of Sempra Energy)
Electric and gas utility with 3 million customers in Southern California
(Houston, TX)
Oilfield services
Siemens Energy & Automation
(Alpharetta, GA)
Electrical, engineering and automation solutions
Southern Co
(Atlanta, Georgia)
Tennessee Valley Authority
(Knoxville, TN)
Public power utility.
Westinghouse Electric Co
(Pittsburgh, PA)
Fuel, services, technology, plant designs and equipment for the nuclear power industry
Xcel Energy
(Minneapolis, MN)
Electricity and natural gas; operations in ten western and Midwestern states

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