Utilities open employment arms to U.S. military veterans.
The national unemployment rate for U.S. military veterans dropped in September to 3 percent from 4.3 percent during the same month last year, the U.S. Labor Department reported, the lowest figure since 2001. Programs across myriad industry sectors have helped reduce veteran unemployment, including ongoing efforts under way in the energy sector that are being led by utility companies.
“Our business is highly disciplined. I can teach someone the technical skills needed to get the job done. What I can’t teach are passion, commitment and leadership—all skills that military veterans bring to the table the minute they’re hired,” said Bill Fehrman, president and CEO of MidAmerican Energy Co., during the recent 2017 Veterans in Energy (VIE) Forum held in Arlington, Virginia.
MidAmerican Energy, for example, which is a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy with 760,000 electric customers and more than 740,000 natural gas customers across Iowa, Illinois, South Dakota and Nebraska, was a Military Friendly Employer Award recipient this year.
One of the reasons is because MidAmerican provides an extensive Opportunities for Veterans section on its company website that names civilian positions into which military experience has transferred well (like engineering, outage project managers, safety supervisors and plant operators); and provides transition assistance, available positions and how to translate military skills into the civilian world using a military job code.
“You’ve got to find decision-makers, sit down with them over coffee and open their eyes to why hiring vets makes good business sense,” Fehrman advised VIE forum attendees on Oct. 6.
The push to get out that message is on across the utility industry, where veteran traits like being battle-tested, self-motivated and safety-conscious translate well into a second career.
So much so, in fact, that in 2011 the Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD) in partnership with the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), which represents all U.S. investor-owned electric companies, launched Troops to Energy Jobs, which works to make it easier for veterans to translate their skills and training; accelerate the time it takes to get required credentials or degrees; create a military-friendly environment within companies; and increase the number of veterans who are recruited, hired and trained in the utility industry.
Fehrman and other utility CEOs praised Troops to Energy Jobs for the support it offers as a national employee resource group that provides military vets working in energy with transition, retention and professional development support.
“Military veterans are already conditioned with skilled training” across a number of areas, including safety, construction, technology and leadership, which are all beneficial for the utility industry, said Donnie Colston, director of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), during the VIE forum.
In fact, veterans are needed to fill critical positions across the utility industry, which faces significant retirements of its existing workforce over the next decade, according to EEI President Tom Kuhn. And as the industry continues to transform and progress, another workforce challenge is being created by capital expenditures moving toward the distribution side of the business where more jobs are being created, Kuhn said in August during EEI’s release of “Powering America: The Economic and Workforce Contributions of the U.S. Electric Power Industry.”
Along with CEWD and IBEW, among others, EEI and its member companies are forging partnerships to create long-term employment solutions, apprenticeship programs, on-the-job training and continuing education. A wealth of hires has been made from the U.S. military, which accounts for 10 percent of the industry’s new hires as of year-end 2014, according to the EEI report.
“We’re proud of our military vets and we will continue to expand the Troops to Energy Jobs program,” Kuhn said.
Additionally, the Utility Industry Workforce Initiative was launched in 2015 as a multi-year effort to ramp up the recruitment, training and retention of service members, vets and their spouses into employment with utility companies.
The initiative is a working group comprised of six utility industry trade associations (the Nuclear Energy Institute, EEI, American Gas Association, American Public Power Association, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and CEWD); four federal agencies (the departments of Energy, Labor, Defense and Veterans Affairs); and two labor groups (IBEW and the Utility Workers Union of America).
The Utility Industry Workforce Initiative, which complements the Troops to Energy Jobs program, aims to:
● Identify and promote training and credentialing opportunities for veterans to facilitate their entry into the utility industry;
● Share information on trends about exiting military members;
● Promote opportunities for immediate recruitment of service members;
● Assess how military training requirements align with job requirements throughout the utility industry; and
● Work to improve existing tools that match service members and veterans with employment opportunities in the utility industry.
Veterans in Energy—which sponsored the forum hosted by NRECA at its Arlington headquarters office—is an outgrowth of the Utility Industry Workforce Initiative launched in 2016 and members say it does not replace, but builds upon the work of Troops to Energy Jobs by providing additional resources to already employed veterans to ensure successful transitions, retention and professional growth.
VIE also provides the opportunity to expand Veteran Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which are best practices identified by Troops to Energy Jobs that help companies support military vet employees by connecting them to others around the country and by providing leadership opportunities at the state, region and national level.
Also launched in 2016, was NRECA’s Serve Our Co-ops; Serve Our Country, a nationwide program to provide veterans, service members and military spouses an opportunity to join the ranks of America’s electric co-ops. The program provides participating co-ops with resources and training to help them implement nationally recognized best practices in attracting, hiring, onboarding and retaining veterans.
“There are so many more resources available to entice veterans to join our companies,” said Kim Leftwich, CEO of Coles-Moultrie Electric Cooperative, during the VIE forum. “We have a responsibility to hire them just as they have fulfilled responsibilities to serve our nation.”
U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who also attended the VIE forum, agreed.
“I believe we owe veterans that opportunity as well, to be able to further our country’s energy security with veterans who have so faithfully served our country already,” said Perry, a retired U.S. Air Force captain.
“This Veterans in Energy program makes ultimate good sense from my perspective. I’m excited about this program … about the work you are going to do relative to making VIE a very important part of us moving forward,” Perry said.
Kim Riley is a writer for the Daily Energy Insider. Learn more about VIE at http://veteransinenergy.org