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How To Diversify The Engineering Workforce In The Energy Industry

Jasmine Robinson from IHI Terrasun Solutions outlines what the energy sector can do to recruit, develop and retain more women engineers.

21 min read

InfrastructureRenewable Energy

Jasmine Robinson

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Workforce development is a crucial step along the path to a clean energy future. Proponents of the energy transition can’t stop talking about all the jobs, jobs, jobs that the transition will bring, but what exactly will that workforce look like?  Jasmine Robinson, a project manager at IHI Terrasun Solutions, joins the show to talk about what the energy sector can do to recruit, develop and retain more women. Jasmine started developing her engineering skills at an early age and she’s determined to see more women follow in her footsteps. That’s why she’s keen to see things like STEM classes, mentoring programs, and other initiatives used to develop a pipeline of talented women to seize all those jobs, jobs, jobs.

Key highlights

Jasmine’s path to an engineering career – (5:15)
Advice for a young person pondering a career as an energy engineer – (7:59)
Advice for someone considering a mid-career pivot to the renewables sector – (8:50)
What the industry can do to attract, develop and retain more engineering talent – (10:29)
How has the landscape for women in the engineering field changed in the last 15 years? – (12:33)
Pivotal mentors during Jasmine’s engineering journey – (16:09)
Important programs working to bring more women into the renewables sector – (17:47)
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(Note: This transcript was created using artificial intelligence. It has not been edited verbatim.)

Sean McMahon  00:09

What’s up everyone, and welcome to another episode of the Renewable Energy SmartPod. I’m your host, Sean McMahon. The path to a clean energy future is riddled with complex questions. Like how soon can we update our aging grid for all the renewable energy that’s either already in the queue or on its way? How are we going to build out the necessary supply chain? More specifically, where are we going to build out that supply chain? And even with the Inflation Reduction Act, already powering serious amounts of funding for renewables? questions remain about how we’re going to pay for all the various aspects of the transition. And of course, one of the most important questions is: Who exactly is going to do all that work? Workforce development is a key piece of this entire conversation. Proponents of the energy transition can’t stop talking about all the jobs, jobs, jobs that will bring, but what exactly will that workforce look like?

Joining me today to talk about that very topic is Jasmine Robinson. Jasmine is a project manager at IHI Terrasun. And her journey into the renewable sector is a fascinating one. At an early age, we’re talking high school, Jasmine managed to juggle her talent for basketball with her passion for engineering. Her skills in both areas helped her find her way to Marquette University, where she continued to excel on the court and in the classroom. And then, following graduation, she found a job where she was able to put those skills to work in the energy industry. Jasmine is here to talk about what can be done to attract more women like her to renewables. I mean, let’s be real. The energy sector isn’t exactly bursting at the seams with women engineers. So Jasmine’s keen to see things like STEM classes, mentoring programs, and other initiatives used to develop a pipeline of talented women to seize all those jobs, jobs, jobs. Jasmine has been there, done that. And she’s determined to see more women following her footsteps. So her insights are definitely worth a listen.

Real quick, just a reminder to make sure that if you haven’t already, go back and listen to some of the recent episodes of this podcast. Jill Blickstein, the Vice President of Sustainability at American Airlines, join me to talk about the future of sustainable air travel. And most recently, Kacie Peters from Pivot Energy talks about the buzz surrounding community solar. If the early audience analytics for those two episodes are any indication, something tells me this show we’ll be revisiting the topics of sustainable aviation fuel, and community solar real soon.

So yeah, lots of great info in the archives of this podcast. But for now, let’s get rolling with Jasmine Robinson from IHI Terrasun.

Hello, everyone, and thank you for joining me today. My guest is Jasmine Robinson from IHI Terrasun. Jasmine, how you don’t today.

Jasmine Robinson  03:00

I am great. It’s a great morning. Thank you for having me, Sean.

Sean McMahon  03:04

You’re coming to us from Chicago, right?

Jasmine Robinson  03:06

Yes, yes.

Sean McMahon  03:08

How are things in the Windy City?

Jasmine Robinson  03:10

So far? So good. So far? So good, we got the sun out. So that’s always a plus around this time of year?

Sean McMahon  03:17

For sure, for sure. We’re still waiting for the sun here in Portland. So anyway, I wanted to bring you on because want to hear more about what you and the team at IHI Terrasun? Do we’re gonna do a lot of talking about how the clean energy sector can develop a more diverse workforce. But first, let’s kind of set the table for some of our listeners who might not know who you are, or perhaps what Terrasun does. So what kind of activities you are involved in, what’s your role?

Jasmine Robinson  03:37

Yeah, so at Terrasun we provide integration software, and services for large scale utility, energy storage projects. My position for Terrasun. I’m a project manager. So as the project manager, I usually take the project from the sales team, work directly with the customers for delivery of the equipment, working with the vendors, working with our logistics procurement team, to land the equipment. I’m also in the background of me delivering the equipment I’m working with our engineers, our software team, and like our electrical engineers to create, create the software or the different programs that we’re going to use to integrate the storage system. Once we deliver, we take the software, take the equipment and we start our commissioning, we’ll go into the code commissioning of the inverters, batteries, and then we’ll jump into hot commissioning whenever the utility is ready. Still working with the customer all the while, then we start our testing. So then I’m working with our services department, who’s out there troubleshooting, troubleshooting in the field and then also remotely trying to pass the tests that we’ve come up wit to say, hey, our system is ready to rock.

Sean McMahon  05:03

Alright, so when you say you know, large scale, you know utility projects, we’re talking what kind of technology tech, a wind, solar everything or what are we talking about?

Jasmine Robinson  05:10

Mostly solar, solar and energy storage. That’s, that’s where we are. Yep.

Sean McMahon  05:15

Okay. And so part of the reason I want to bring you on is kind of talk about the job prospects that have been presented by the inflation Reduction Act, and what the workforce will look like. So someone like you, I want to kind of just get back to like, what made you decide to pursue a career in clean energy and specifically, you know, pursue a career in engineering,

Jasmine Robinson  05:31

engineering. This goes back to high school. So when I was in high school, or just period growing up, I loved math, science and working with my hands. my chemistry teacher noticed my love for this and my passion, in he presented me with the opportunity for a to go to it engineering camp. So I attended this engineering camp, it was in the summertime got the information, I actually didn’t know that I would be able to make it because I had a basketball tournament that same weekend before. And I didn’t think I’d be able to make it, made it happen, went to the basketball tournament, and immediately got dropped off at the engineering camp right after that for a week. So I had there we focused on the different disciplines civil, structural, electrical, and mechanical. And that’s where I noticed that I like electrical the best. And then as I was preparing for, you know, looking for colleges, that’s when I noticed that that was what I wanted to major in electrical engineering.

Sean McMahon  06:36

I got you and I started a little homework on you and … How did that hoops part work out?

Jasmine Robinson  06:40

It was great. It was it was a fun time. As you know, they just finished the Final Four. So I got to go to the national championship game on Monday. And let’s see, I got we got to two NCAA Tournaments in the two in it. So we were in postseason every time. Where were you at? Where’d you play? Marquette University?

Sean McMahon  06:59

Yes. Oh, gosh, yeah, big time. Big time, the way Wait. We all there at the same time?

Jasmine Robinson  07:07

No, as I was coming, he was leaving. So all right,

Sean McMahon  07:11

gotcha. Well, hey, I always like, you know, learning more about people’s background and kind of how they ended up where they are in their field. So what made you decide to take you know that engineering background and and bring it to the renewable sector.

Jasmine Robinson  07:21

So the renewable sector, so I started out, I started engineering off in nuclear power, where I worked on nuclear power plants as an electrical engineer, I did that for about almost 12 years, wanted to get a change, a change of pace, change, speed, change of scenery, jumped over to mission critical facilities for a year where I worked on data centers. As I was there, I got reached out to about an opportunity in renewable energy as energy storage. And I did a little bit of homework, and decided that I felt like I could come in and help and decided to give energy storage a try.

Sean McMahon  07:59

Alright, so it sounds like you have a fascinating, you know, path to where you are now. But, you know, what advice would you give to a young person say, who’s in that same age, you know, high school where you were trying to juggle basketball and engineering camp? What advice would you give to someone at that age? Who’s interested in working in this field? You know, this field of renewables?

Jasmine Robinson  08:15

Yeah. So, in thinking about that, if you’ve already done your homework on renewables, then you kind of know where we’re heading in the fast pace industry that it is and how much it’s growing. So I guess just, you know, stick with it, and keep an open mind, and be be eager and ready to learn. Right? So no, one day is going to look like, don’t be afraid to say, I don’t know. But be willing to follow that. I don’t know. But I’ll get the answer for you. Do some homework, reach out to people, and just go for it.

Sean McMahon  08:50

I gotcha. Yeah, absolutely. Just be ambitious and kind of eager to learn. Yes. You also talked about how you kind of made your pivot from nuclear over to, you know, another wing of the energy sector, if you will. So, one of the things in the news last few years is there’s a lot of folks out there who are kind of doing mid career pivots, who might start out in something completely different. And then for whatever motivations they have, they decide they want to get into clean energy. So what about folks like that, who are bringing a little bit more experience to the table, but that can be kind of a I don’t want to say a scary proposition. But you know, you’ve for someone who’s established himself in one career in one industry to try and change to another. Any advice you have for folks like that to how to go ahead and make the leap.

Jasmine Robinson  09:28

Oh, it’s scary. It’s scary, but that’s okay. Right? Change is scary, but your experience will help you get you through, right. So although there’s differences between the different sectors that I’ve been in, there are a lot of similarities. That’s one of the reasons why I came over is because I felt like my experiences from those different sectors would help out here and help grow renewables energy storage. helped them get to the level of of the other sectors. So I would say, rely on your experiences. And then again, just like the young person, you have to be eager to learn, and hone your skills for this particular for this particular sector. So that’s that’s the advice I would give, rely on your experiences, we’ll still be eager to learn.

Sean McMahon  10:21

Yeah. And chances are, there’s something you’ve done in the past that’s applicable to what you’re trying to tackle. So people can definitely rely on that. Exactly. You know, so we’ve spent a few minutes talking about about your experience coming up into this sector. And you know, some of the choices that other folks are making to enter it. But one of the things I want to ask you about is, what are some of the things the industry itself can do to attract talent from other fields attract young talent that’s coming out of school or coming up out of various schools, whether it’s colleges or trade schools or anything like that? You’ve been around this industry long enough to know what it does well, and when it doesn’t? So what are some of the things the industry can do to develop a stronger and more diverse workforce for the future ahead?

Jasmine Robinson  11:01

Sean? That’s a That’s a great question. And I think they’re doing it, I think the industry is doing it. And I think they just need to continue and try to do more. And what I what I feel like, what I see that they’re doing that I didn’t necessarily see when I was coming up, are the STEM programs, more emphasis on the STEM programs, STEM schools, like my daughter goes to a STEM school now, after school programs, workshops, what I see is like the YMCA, they’ll they’ll offer like a three day STEM program, where you can come in and do different projects and get kids start, start them early, get different kids of all different backgrounds interested in the stem for number one. And then in the end, like, like I said, the after school programs, my daughter is also involved in like the girls who code after school program. So another thing that I see like some of the conferences that we attend, they have job fairs, networking is key. Networking is key, the conferences, holding those job fairs, allows for the graduates to come out and look for different jobs in the industry. And then just going back to your alma mater, at that helps to so gone back and go on to the job fairs. I haven’t seen that much in energy storage, but I think that’s something that we can we can start doing is going back to the alma mater is to job fairs and talk more about your company and the industry and for recruitment purposes.

Sean McMahon  12:33

Gotcha. And also, I want to kind of touch on one other aspect of this as a woman who’s come through the engineering field, how have you seen attitudes towards women in engineering shift during the last 15 years or so?

Jasmine Robinson  12:45

It’s it? I don’t I don’t know. Shift. Give me a second.

Sean McMahon  12:50

Has it shifted? I guess it’s my best question. I guess it was, I’m presuming there’s been some evolution that maybe we’re still kind of stuck in the wrong time.

Jasmine Robinson  12:58

So it is it is definitely making a turn. Right. So I’ll go back to when I first started. Right, let’s start at the engineering camp. So at the engineering camp, I didn’t see I didn’t see a lot of girls, even in electric, my electrical engineering class, not a lot of girls, and then you know, we didn’t have a lot of the same stem programs that are out there now. So the STEM programs that they’re offering, and the more emphasis that we have on STEM, that that is hoping more girls, young ladies, women get more involved. So that is a shift that’s that’s being made. One of the guys in our company noticed, you know, he went to a robotics competition with his son. And he noted, you know, that there were a lot of girls there, I think more women are getting involved. So that’s refreshing to see that when I do walk into certain rooms, you know, there are other women, whereas before I would have been the only one. So it is it is changing slowly, but I think we are making the right steps to get us there.

Sean McMahon  14:01

Okay, I think that kind of segues to my next question about, you know, what excites you about the future of of energy storage or clean power? Obviously, that that aspect of it, I’m sure motivates you to kind of you got your own daughter enrolled in after school STEM programs. So what else about the energy storage or clean power sector? Has you excited? Yeah.

Jasmine Robinson  14:19

So clean power period excites me, right? Because it’s good for the environment. So that’s number one. Number two, with clean power and renewable energy growing so fast, and storage growing so fast, I feel like my experience can help get the industry where we want it to go and where we need it to go to be a more established industry like nuclear mission critical facilities. So that’s what excites me, that excites me is that, you know, I’m able to come in and make an immediate impact to help get us where we want to go.

Sean McMahon  14:54

I understand that. What about you personally? So what are the next steps for your own career? I mean, you’ve made the transition from you know, Nuclear over to the energy storage side of things. And so when you kind of map out where you want to be in the next 10 to 15 years, what kind of goals are on your list?

Jasmine Robinson  15:09

That’s, that’s a good question.

Sean McMahon  15:11

You’re the CEO, right? You just gonna take over everything?

Jasmine Robinson  15:16

Watch out, Jamal. No, I’m just kidding. That’s, that’s a really good question. When I came over here, I was doing the distributed generated project. So they’re, they’re smaller projects, but it’s a lot of them. Right. So my goal is to just every project that I get make it better. There’s always room for improvement. So I’m actually going going through right now through some lessons learned with my client, and just trying to figure out how can we get better as a company, as a project. So that’s the immediate thing, just trying to get better. And then, you know, ultimately, maybe I have a team, maybe I get more involved, I would love to get more involved in mentor speaking that classrooms like kindergarten or something like that, Career Day, things like that, just trying to help, just just trying to help grow the industry.

Sean McMahon  16:09

Okay, I love how you talk about how you want to kind of get back and talk in classrooms and kind of help the next generation come along. But looking back to your own experience and your own path to where you are now. Were there any particular events that might have taken place, or individuals who served in kind of a mentorship role for you that really helped play a big part in getting you where you are today?

Jasmine Robinson  16:29

Yes, there was actually. So when I first Well, first off my chemistry teacher, Mr. Kane, you know, if he doesn’t, if he doesn’t put that engineering Pamplin in my hand, and as and present that opportunity with me, you know, maybe I would have figured out what engineering was. But that started it all. Once I got into engineering. Once I took my first job, I would say, when I talk about reaching back, one of the vice presidents at my old company, he was on the board, the engineering board at Marquette University. So meeting him, and that’s what helped me, you know, get my foot in the door at my first company, I gained a bunch of experience there, which allows me the confidence to be able to do what I do now. And then my first supervisor, she was a woman, and she helped me a lot, you know, going, I think she played a major role in shaping my confidence and experience and getting out into the field. And just pretty much just throwing me into the fire. She was like, No, this is what you need to do. You’re going to do this go there. And then you know, we a lot of back and forth between us. I think those are the major three that stick out to me, right now. Those three do it for me.

Sean McMahon  17:47

So what programs or organizations are out there right now, who might be trying to either attract women to the renewable energy space or retain the women who are already here?

Jasmine Robinson  17:58

Yes, I believe we rise is doing a great job we rise is women of renewable industries and sustainable energy. I’ve been to a couple of their events that they’ve had, and the energy, when I have gone to those events have been amazing. And the networking opportunities. I’ve connected with so many women at these events. It is it is amazing. And we actually keep in touch now, what was one of the one of the ladies, a couple other ladies I was talking to at one of the events was in long, long storage. And I was like, oh, yeah, she’s in long storage, too. I think maybe you guys should connect. She went over there to where she was like, Yeah, your friend said that. You were in long storage. And she goes, friend, I have a friend here that she pointed to me. She goes, Oh, yes. So those those moments? It was it was it was really fun. We lived a long, long time about that. So a bit, continuing to have those events helps. Because it’s it’s refreshing for us, for women when we go to those events, because then we don’t feel alone, right? So and we feel like, ah, yeah, there is somebody that’s feeling, you know, that is experiencing the same thing that I’m experiencing. And then, like I noted, my daughters and Girls Who Code. So programs like that helps the younger generation and gets them excited and keep them excited about STEM opportunities. So those those are the two major things that I see right now that I feel are impactful.

Sean McMahon  19:32

Okay, if I had asked you to paint a picture of what this field looks like, specifically the engineering part of the clean energy sector looks like and the next decade or 15 years, what kind of programs are in place to develop a stronger and more diverse workforce? And what role are you playing

Jasmine Robinson  19:50

The programs that are in place now? I think I touched on them a little bit earlier, the after school programs, that they have the Girls Who Code The different workshops, like combat has workshops, stem workshops that they provide to school aged kids, to get them involved in STEM. How I’m playing a part is encouraging people when when I see them doubting themselves. So, you know, like I said before, it may look scary, but I think confidence is is number one. So I’m a big fan of positive energy. That is what I see is out there as far as programs and how STEM is growing on everybody, and then how I am able to help bring it along.

Sean McMahon  20:43

Well, hey, Jasmine, I gotta tell you, your positive attitude comes right on through just in talking to you. So I appreciate all your time and your insights today. So thank you very much.

Jasmine Robinson  20:52

All right. Thank you for having me.

Sean McMahon  20:59

All right, everyone. Well, that’s our show for today. Thank you all for listening. And if you haven’t already, please subscribe or follow this show on Apple, Spotify, Google, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. And as always, please be sure to share it with your friends and colleagues. Have a great day.