Brandon Simpliciano promised himself that when he graduated from the University of Hawaii with his electrical engineering degree, he’d return home to Kaua‘i.
While the mainland or the more populated island of Oahu would have offered more career prospects, “to me, nothing was more powerful than the thought of coming home and giving back,” said Simpliciano, 28.
His wish came true. After graduation, he was scanning the website of Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative and discovered that the longtime supervisory control and data acquisition contractor was retiring. The position at the Lihue-based co-op checked all his boxes.
Since his hire in 2017, Simpliciano has modernized KIUC’s SCADA system, which monitors and controls field devices remotely. To learn as much as could about the system, he shadowed the contractor for a few years.
“I was a green, hungry engineer right out of college with zero experience,” said Simpliciano. “But I was determined to be the one to take the reins and bring something revolutionary here.”
Simpliciano is one of 10 “young guns” under age 30 hired by KIUC since 2012 to fill job openings created when veteran employees retired. Born and raised on Kaua‘i, these young professionals now work for the co-op as transmission and distribution engineers and line apprentices as well as in IT, member services and human services.
“We’re really pleased when we can hire young, local talent,” said KIUC President and CEO David Bissell. “Many of them dreamed of coming home to Kaua‘i after college but weren’t sure the jobs would be there.”
The Garden Isle is a difficult place to start a career. Most jobs come from the tourism and hospitality industries and “roughly 80% of the businesses hire fewer than 10 employees, so opportunities with large firms offering growth potential over time are very limited,” said Beth Tokioka, the co-op’s communications manager.
In addition, Kaua‘i has no four-year colleges, “so many of our kids go to other islands or the mainland for their degrees” and don’t return, she said, noting that many of KIUC’s jobs require a college degree.
It’s also hard to find a job opening at the co-op. KIUC has a 4% turnover rate, the average tenure is 16 years, and the average age of employees is almost 50.
Amid this backdrop, KIUC runs two summer programs to help recruit and develop young talent. Since 1997, its summer internship program for engineers has been a crucial pipeline for young STEM graduates. The co-op also participates in a summer worker program, partnerships with the Department of Labor and high school career fairs.
These programs have helped the co-op fill workforce gaps. Seven employees were former interns or summer workers.
Growing up, Simpliciano and his family were KIUC members. But he admitted that he didn’t realize that a co-op was providing them with electricity.
“I had to research the meaning of co-ops and its emphasis on serving the members, which essentially is every single one of us on the island,” he said.
As he and his fiancé raise their young family—the couple’s fourth child is on the way—Simpliciano is thrilled to have a challenging and meaningful career.
“I'd like to think that the ideas I've brought have been half of me trying to improve the company and the other half trying to protect everyone around me. Everyone is ohana, or family, here.”
Phase Two of NRECA’s Young Adult Member Engagement initiative offers resources to help co-ops develop and nurture a workforce that is effective at meeting evolving member expectations and changes in the energy industry. For more information, explore YAME 2 resources.