From the Front Lines to the Turbines: A New Initiative Helps Place Veterans into Energy Jobs

Issue 5 and Volume 4.

A U.S. Marine training exercise takes place at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in California in September. Photo courtesy of Cpl. Reece Lodder, United States Marine Corps.

By Brian Wheeler, Editor

The energy industry is facing a set of challenges in regards to the industry’s workforce. Workers are aging, there is a lack of qualified workers to replace those leaving the business and the economy is weakened.

According to the Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD), nearly 40 percent of the nation’s energy workforce will either be eligible for retirement or leaving their jobs due to attrition over the next five years. The nuclear power industry alone anticipates the need to replace up to 25,000 workers by 2015. But CEWD believes they have found the answer in military veterans. Today, nearly one million U.S. veterans are unemployed and looking to utilize skills they learned while serving in the military.

“A jobless rate of 30 percent for veterans is a disgrace, and we need to be doing more about this,” said Tom Farrell, chairman, president and CEO of Dominion Resources and chairman of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI). “We have 200,000 jobs coming that we need to fill, and I’d like to fill them with the military.”

CEWD is a non-profit organization comprised of members from the associations of electric utilities, such as EEI, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the American Gas Association (AGA) and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), their unions and public, private and government owned utilities. Although utilities have historically recruited veterans due to their skills being a great fit in the energy industry, this is the first program put together to create a national template that will be made available to all electric utility members so they can learn the best practices of others.

“Research shows that moving into civilian life is not as easy as just taking off a uniform,” said Ann Randazzo, executive director for the Center for Energy Workforce Development. “Moving into a civilian job is the same way.”

Five pilot utilities, American Electric Power (AEP), Arizona Public Service (APS), Dominion, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) and Southern Co., are formally developing the program. Over the next two years these utilities intend to focus on the needs of employers, veterans and educators to prepare veterans to work in the energy industry.

CEWD has identified jobs in the energy industry that have high growth and are in demand. These jobs include engineers, line workers, plant operators, technicians, pipefitters, pipelayers, welders and security officers. Although some veterans are ready to move directly into available positions, some may require additional training and education.

“Just by serving in the military, veterans gain valuable skills such as project management, personnel management, counseling, interpersonal communication, leadership, problem solving, decision making, troubleshooting and the list goes on and on,” said Anthony Herrera, executive recruiter for Arizona Public Service.

Herrera, who also served in the military with the U.S. Marine Corps, said that APS has internal goals with the newly-launched initiative. Currently, APS employs 672 veterans out of its roughly 7,000-strong team. Twenty-five percent of those workers are eligible for retirement and Herrera said that within the next three to five years eligibility could reach 45 percent. One of their goals is to increase its veteran workforce by 20 percent.

“Obviously it is an issue we need to address now,” he said. “Troops to Energy Jobs will help address this issue.”

Connecting Skills and Education

Possessing an Associate’s degree is becoming the minimum education requirement for many positions within the energy industry. The Troops to Energy Jobs program’s model will help veterans complete their degree programs by applying their relevant military education and experience to their college credit recommendations. This will be done through CEWD’s partnership with the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (CREDIT) service. This helps the veterans gain access to academic credit for formal courses and examinations taken outside the traditional academia setting. Troops to Energy Jobs also will identify and develop curriculum to bridge the gaps between veterans’ military education and experience and the skills needed for specific energy careers.

A worker grinds on pipe fitting for equipment installation at AEP’s Mitchell Plant in Moundsville, W.Va. Photo courtesy of American Electric Power.

“About 75 percent of the skills (veterans) are bringing back align well with the trade area,” said Joe Cisneros, director of Workforce Diversity for American Electric Power.

AEP currently employs 18,700 workers in 11 states. Ten percent of those workers have self-identified themselves as veterans. AEP has been acknowledged as one of the nation’s top 100 “military-friendly” employers by G.I. Jobs magazine for eight consecutive years and Cisneros said the Troops to Energy Job program is only going to augment what the utility is already doing.

A distribution line mechanic electrically connects two low-voltage wires. Photo courtesy of American Electric Power.

AEP has also partnered with Columbus Community College, Zane State, the Career and Technology Education Center and the Ohio Association of Community Colleges. Through these partnerships, curriculum has been developed for positions at AEP. Both Zane State and Columbus Community College have electrical technology programs, for example, that coincide with the company’s technician positions.

CEWD will also post course work online to utilize an accelerated approach. Veterans that are earning post-secondary credentials will have the opportunity to find numerous opportunities for employment in the industry.

“The beauty of this program is it will actually support various types of veterans,” said Matt Kellam, supervisor of Strategic Staffing for Dominion Resources. “The reason this program is so important is that we understand those transferable skills.”

Accepting the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award in 2008 for Dominion are Chairman, President and CEO Tom Farrell, at center, and from left, Eric Jones, Mike Monfalcone, Donald Thomas, Bev Robinson and George Newsome. Photo courtesy of Doug Buerlein and Dominion.

Dominion, which currently employees around 1,200 veterans, has built relationships with four-year colleges and military and veterans bases to establish a military and veteran outreach program. In 2008, Dominion won the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, the government’s highest recognition given to employers for their support of employees in the National Guard and Reserve. Kellam, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps for six years, said Dominion has posted job opportunities and anticipates other utilities in other states to adopt the program in 2013.

AEP is launching the pilot program at its headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, but will utilize their Human Resources departments in all 11 states to connect with veterans.

“We recognize that our military and veterans are mobile,” said Cisneros. “If by chance there are opportunities outside of Columbus for some of these folks we are definitely going to offer those up.”

And a lot of the focus of the Troops to Energy Jobs program is supplying veterans with the resources they need to move quickly in to energy jobs. The goal is to minimize as much time as possible from when veterans get out of the military and into a job. Randazzo said that CEWD does not want the veterans to exit the military and have to start from scratch.

“And the great thing about this is that everybody is learning from each other,” she said.

For veterans to get started, all they have to do is visit

Kristen Wright, Senior Editor, Electric Light & Power and Powergrid International, contributed to this article.

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