Partners invest in future workforce
When business, manufacturing, and education come together for one important goal, the outcome can be a powerful force. A partnership between Coosa Valley Technical College in Rome, Ga., Georgia Power, and Southern Co. is one such force. The three have partnered to make sure employees and students get the most out of training, using their respective skills and knowledge to further the quest of automation education.
The collaboration between instructors from the college and trainers from Georgia Power provide training of electrical, mechanical maintenance, and apprentice and advance programs and instrumentation and controls training to Southern Company employees. The goal is to develop a workforce ready to operate complex control systems throughout the Southern Company’s electric generating plants.
Coosa Valley Technical College is a member of Georgia’s system of technical colleges that operate under the Technical College System of Georgia. With 4.4 million customers and more than 42,000 megawatts of generating capacity, Atlanta-based Southern Company serves the Southeast as a U.S. producer of electricity as well as fiber optics and wireless communications and owns electric utilities in four states.
The partnership came about when representatives from the Southern Company approached Coosa Valley Technical College about providing instructors to teach electrical and mechanical apprentice programs. Not only did the college agree to provide instructors, they offered a portion of their Polk County campus as a location for the programs.
The Georgia Power technical education center has classrooms and labs with equipment, provided by companies such as Emerson, Foxboro, Bailey, Orion, Rosemount, and ISA. Jeff Peoples, technical training manager at Southern Co. Generation in Birmingham, Ala., said the most important part of the program is the DCS and I&C training because employees with those types of skills are the “toughest for us to attract. We have trouble getting people from the workforce with that skill set,” he said.
The training center provides electrical and mechanical apprentice and advanced training programs, instrumentation and controls training, and basic power-plant operations training. Students at the training center will include new and current Georgia Power and Southern Company employees, as well as those enrolled at the college, so they will have the opportunity to train and apply for Southern Company positions. And graduates produce a new workforce pool from which Georgia Power and Southern Company can choose new hires.
The experience students face in the classroom enables them to head off problems in real-world control rooms. The apprentice programs have their own classroom. The most important aspect of their training is learning to work safely around energized equipment. After almost two years of training, the apprentices earn more than 50 hours of college credit and receive a technical certificate of credit in either electrical or mechanical maintenance.
The I&C training lab and process control simulator are the only ones available in the entire Southern Company system for this kind of training. In the I&C classroom, students study turbine vibration using a simulator. I&C training is open to entry-level technicians with a two-year degree. Participants can also advance their skills and work toward achieving ISA certification.
The I&C lab is an elaborate engineering mock-up that gives students practical experience with transmitters as they study pressures, temperatures, flow, levels, and pH. Finally, the process control simulator, a mini power plant, presents hands-on opportunities with pressures, levels, temperatures, and flow on a live unit tied to one of several simulated control systems in the lab. Making mistakes here can cause the system to shut down.
Georgia power invested $1.2 million toward the renovation of training space and equipment purchases. Southern Company’s contribution included 27 of its vendors donating $840,000 worth of equipment to the training center.
“Our power plants at Southern Company have a low percentage of unavailability (1½ to 2%), which is superior to anyone else in the industry,” said Jerry Stewart, chief production officer for Southern Company. “When people ask us how we manage to keep our downtime so low, we tell them that the secret is a dedicated investment in employee training. Other utilities have the same equipment and software that we have, but they don’t have our employees. You only have superior employees when you’re dedicated to training.”
It is a win/win situation, Peoples said, because Georgia Power employees get the training they need to advance, and students from the college prepare for opportunities at the company. The program benefits everyone, he said, because industry, business, and education can come together to create a “workable solution to the workforce development issues.”
Ellen Fussell Policastro writes and edits Workforce Development.