It’s an exciting time for engineers working in the U.S. electric power industry.
A robust economy, a growing population, and pledges of government infrastructure spending are resulting in major new projects appearing across the country. Much of the current power Transmission and Distribution (T&D) system dates back to the 1960s and 1970s, which means there is a strong need to upgrade and expand to better accommodate renewable energy sources and adapt to the rapidly changing energy mix. You can already see examples of this activity in New England, where upgrades to the region’s older infrastructure are already well underway, and Texas, where new oilfield discoveries have driven construction of new transmission lines.
In fact, the Edison Electric Institute, the group representing investor-owned power companies across the U.S., says its members spent $20.8 billion on transmission infrastructure in 2016 alone. From now through to 2020, the institute expects another $90 billion to be spent on T&D development in the U.S.
The situation is much different north of the border, however. In recent years, a number of major transmission projects have already been built to help address Canada’s own aging power infrastructure. Following the completion of major projects like the Eastern and Western Alberta Transmission Lines and British Columbia’s Interior to Mainland Transmission Line, the country’s transmission and distribution sector is increasingly moving into maintenance mode.
Talent shortage in the U.S. brings competition between employers - and opportunities for Canadian engineers
Meanwhile, the growing U.S. industry is grappling with a shortage of talent across the board, from the technical level all the way up to project management. Canadian engineers eager to burnish their credentials with experience on multi-billion-dollar megaprojects are looking south of the border for those career-building opportunities—and U.S. firms are happy to oblige them.
“It’s a great opportunity for both sides,” says Joshua Hurd, Senior Specialist Recruitment Consultant, LVI Associates. “The U.S. gets quality talent to aid the industry’s continued growth and Canadians get the opportunity to grow their personal equity within the U.S. market by rounding out their skillset and working on larger scale, more exciting projects.”
For a U.S. company, hiring Canadian is an easy decision to make. There is a shared language and culture between the two countries, and Canadian engineers tend to be more familiar with NSERC compliance requirements than workers coming from further away. However, professional engineer (PE) licensing can be a sticking point for some employers.
“Licensing is important within the T&D space,” Hurd explains. “You need to find an employer who is willing to make an investment in the Canadian employee, and in return, the employee needs to be willing to invest in the firm.”
He notes that PE licensing is seen as a valuable asset by many employers. With this designation, engineers can sign and seal plans and drawings, among other professional advantages. A handful of states have mutual recognition agreements for engineers coming from Canada to recognize the Canadian P.Eng designation, but employers looking specifically for a licensed PE are likely to be cautious about hiring foreign talent.
Still, Canadians are definitely easier for U.S. companies to bring in than workers from other countries. Treaty NAFTA (TN) visas, which are open only to citizens of Mexico, Canada and the U.S., are relatively simple and cheap to acquire, and can be renewed indefinitely once held.
By comparison, the H1-B visa required for workers from non-NAFTA countries is more expensive and burdensome for an employer. In most cases, the H1-B visa can also only be extended after the initial three-year term for an extra three years, which could potentially be a concern if a company is hiring for a lengthy, complex development. Understandably, employers tend to favor candidates that can commit for the duration of a project.
“We are seeing more long-term projects being implemented and therefore, Canadian candidates see their move to the U.S. as a long-term investment,” Hurd says. “That’s definitely the preference for firms staffing these long-term projects.”
LVI Associates is the leading specialist recruitment agency for the infrastructure sector. We were born from the fusion of two existing companies—Laking Group and Viridium Associates who recruited for the oil and gas and renewable energy markets. While working for some of the largest energy companies in the world, we realised that we could transform more careers and support greater projects and companies by opening our services to the wider infrastructure market. More than the sum of our parts, today LVI Associates provides permanent, contract and multi-hire recruitment from our global hubs in Boston, London and Singapore. Contact us to find out more.