As the US hydropower workforce faces an impending surge of retirements by 2035, the National Hydropower Association (NHA) is taking proactive measures to address the evolving needs of the industry. In response to this imminent challenge, NHA has established the Hydro Academy and is currently in the process of creating an NHA-certified Hydropower Systems Principals Course.

To fulfill the demand for skilled professionals and continuing education, NHA is reaching out to organizations and individuals interested in contributing to the development of the course curriculum. In a recent announcement, NHA issued a Request for Expressions of Interest (REOI) to identify entities willing to participate in the creation of this groundbreaking program.

The REOI outlines the critical need for training as the existing workforce in the water power sector approaches retirement, necessitating the recruitment and training of new employees to fill these upcoming vacancies. The Hydropower Systems Principals Course is envisioned as a comprehensive program, covering various aspects of hydropower production. It aims to provide approximately 40 hours of training through eight modules, including topics such as production planning, dam safety, equipment engineering, and environmental considerations.

NHA sought expressions of interest from companies, academia, and individuals interested in contributing to the curriculum development. The formal Request for Proposals (RFP) is expected to be issued in early January 2024, with an information session to follow shortly thereafter.

The proposed course content will be delivered virtually, but NHA is also exploring opportunities to integrate in-person events for supplementary learning. The development of a Hydro Basics / 101 course, focusing on the full system of hydropower production, is considered as phase 1. The course is titled “Hydropower System Principals” and covers a wide range of topics crucial to the industry.

To ensure the curriculum’s quality, NHA outlines specific requirements for development, including rigor, high-quality standards, testing components for each module, and the issuance of completion certificates or professional development hours. NHA also envisions packaging the curriculum as self-learning modules for flexibility and accessibility.

Youth engagement

On the global stage, Eddie Rich, CEO of the International Hydropower Association (IHA), and Helen Watts, Executive Director of Student Energy, officially sealed a transformative partnership during the COP28 Summit focused on engaging youth in the essential role of sustainable hydropower development as part of the sustainable energy transition.

The collaboration is designed to offer Student Energy’s youth members unparalleled opportunities to engage with the International Hydropower Association’s membership. This includes avenues for knowledge sharing, career development, advocacy initiatives, mentorship programs, and networking opportunities within the sustainable hydropower community.

Helen Watts, expressing her enthusiasm for the partnership, highlighted the crucial role that youth play in steering the sustainable energy transition. She emphasized the need to empower young individuals to become effective agents of change. Watts stated: “We are excited to partner with the IHA to ensure that young people working towards sustainable and just hydropower solutions have access to the industry knowledge, tools, and networks they need to drive action within the sector.”

Eddie Rich echoed these sentiments, emphasizing the significance of sustainable hydropower as a clean, green, modern, and affordable solution to combat climate change. He stated: “With this partnership with Student Energy, we hope to help mobilize a new generation of sustainable hydropower specialists to help double capacity by 2050.”

Boosting stem education

It is undoubtedly important to engage children at a young age to explore careers in the engineering industry. This has been recognised by the Drax Foundation, the charitable arm of renewable energy giant Drax Group, which has donated £932,000 to 20 non-profit organizations operating in the UK and North America in support of STEM education and community projects.

This latest funding injection is part of Drax’s commitment to philanthropy in 2023, bringing the total donated by the company this year to £4.6 million. The recipients span regions where Drax Group has a presence, including the UK, US, and Canada.

The funds will be directed towards projects designed to impact a broad spectrum of beneficiaries. Over 32,000 young people are set to benefit from STEM training, 1,229 hectares of land will be restored or protected, and more than 20,000 individuals will gain improved access to green spaces in their communities.

Shona King, Head of Community at Drax, expressed the foundation’s dedication to making a positive impact in the areas where they operate. King said: “The Drax Foundation has established a proud track record of giving back to the communities where we operate. We are guided by the needs of our non-profit partners, which is why we are pleased to fund some of their challenging areas of work.”

The foundation’s focus revolves around supporting initiatives related to education and skills development in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM), enhancing green spaces and biodiversity in local communities, and improving access to renewable energy and energy efficiency in areas with low social mobility.

In this funding round, projects across the UK, US, and Canada will benefit from the Drax Foundation’s support. This marks the second round of grants since the foundation’s launch in March 2023.

In the UK, over £300,000 has been allocated to eight projects, including support for Teach First, a charity working to end educational inequality by recruiting STEM trainee teachers. In the US, where Drax has operations in Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, over US$433,000 will be distributed to seven projects, with a focus on conservation, STEM education, and climate resilience.

Canada will receive over C$457,000 for five different projects near Drax’s pellet operations, supporting initiatives such as engaging and inspiring women in STEM programs and advocating for biodiversity conservation.

The Drax Foundation encourages a diverse range of organizations to apply for funding, from smaller community-led projects to larger grants of up to £100,000 for established non-profit organizations. Priority is given to initiatives that cater to under-served and under-represented groups, promote gender equality, and support indigenous communities.

Organizations interested in securing Drax Foundation funding for their projects can visit to learn more about the Foundation’s criteria and submit an initial expression of interest. Applications for the first round of funding in 2024 are already being accepted.

Earlier in 2023, Drax Group joined forces with Glasgow Science Centre to introduce innovative hydropower education programs for primary and secondary schools in Scotland. This collaboration, facilitated by the Drax Foundation, aims to enhance STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) skills among students and inspire them to consider careers in the hydropower industry.

Scotland’s hydropower sector is on a growth trajectory, with plans underway to expand pumped storage hydro stations, including Drax’s Cruachan plant. This sector presents long-term career prospects in the field of renewable energy.

Sarah Cameron, Community Manager for Scotland at Drax Group, expressed the company’s commitment to supporting Glasgow Science Centre’s efforts to foster STEM skills among young Scots. Cameron stated, “The learning lab and workshop are pioneering hydropower education programs that will help students develop their STEM knowledge and hopefully get excited and interested in a career in hydropower.”

The primary school program is conducted through Glasgow Science Centre’s ‘Learning Lab’ and spans four to six weeks. It employs case studies of Drax’s Scottish assets to educate students on the operation of different hydropower forms, including pumped hydro and run-of-river plants. The program includes class visits to Glasgow Science Centre or on-site visits by the Science Centre’s On Tour team.

For secondary school students, there are STEM Futures Work Readiness Workshops. These workshops are designed for fifth and sixth-year students and are conducted at Glasgow Science Centre. Participants collaborate to explore the career opportunities available in the Scottish hydropower sector and the necessary skills for accessing them.

Dr. Stuart Meiklejohn, STEM Futures Project Coordinator at Glasgow Science Centre, emphasized the unique nature of this partnership. He said, “This exciting new partnership will deliver invaluable hydro-themed education resources and is the first of its kind in Scotland.” Meiklejohn added that the engaging programs offer teacher training and hydropower content tailored for primary students, along with opportunities to learn from experts in the field. Older students can explore their lifelong STEM journey as they consider future careers.

These programs are fully funded by Drax, with resources available for 50 primary schools to participate in Learning Labs and 20 workshops catering to up to 400 secondary school pupils. Schools interested in participating can apply for the programs, set to launch in early 2024, by contacting Glasgow Science Centre via their website.

The launch of these programs aligns with Drax’s corporate foundation, Drax Foundation, which recently provided funding for EDI bursaries through EngineeringUK to support underrepresented young individuals in engineering careers. Drax’s community strategy focuses on ensuring positive impacts in the communities where it operates.

In addition to these programs, Drax offers free educational tours of its Cruachan site in Argyll and Bute for schools. These tours offer insights into engineering careers, pumped storage hydro operations, and how Cruachan contributes to achieving Net Zero targets.