By Valorie Vasquez, Director of Workforce Strategy & Consulting, Xcel Energy
The U.S. military laid the foundation for the nation’s nuclear industry, and that relationship has played a central role in the safe and efficient operation of nuclear facilities ever since. Nuclear energy has long been used in the armed services to power ships and submarines. This has created a well-trained military workforce that parallels the civilian nuclear industry and has created an employment pipeline from one sector to the other. The nuclear industry is advancing its outreach to veterans by taking steps to ensure that they have an opportunity to apply their military experience to careers in the civilian nuclear industry.
These stepped-up efforts come at a critical time. Thirty-eight percent of nuclear personnel are eligible to retire in the next five years. The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) points to successful retention programs for keeping knowledgeable professionals on the job. That success, however, has contributed to a workforce comprised of many older, experienced nuclear workers that will need a strong influx of younger workers to join their ranks and eventually take their places.
|The Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant is one of two nuclear facilities operated by Xcel Energy in Minnesota. The energy company has increased the number of military veterans working at the facilities by providing training to its talent acquisition team. The team learns how to translate skills on a military resume into skills needed in a civilian work environment.
Photo Courtesy: Xcel Energy
Fortunately, the industry recognized its workforce challenges and has been developing innovative solutions to address the issue. Though the number of personnel eligible to retire is large, not all personnel who are eligible to retire will actually do so. Annually, the actual turnover of nuclear personnel is 6 percent nationwide.
This is a less daunting figure, but still presents a clear call for action. In 2010, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) launched Troops in Energy, which connects military veterans to energy careers. It provides a roadmap for military veterans to begin their careers in the electric, natural gas, and nuclear industries. Troops to Energy Jobs created helpful resources, including a website with nationwide job listings and a career coach to help veterans translate their military skills to civilian ones. In the past six years, Troops to Energy Jobs has assisted energy companies in recruiting thousands of veterans into energy jobs.
|Charlie Deedrick served in the U.S. Navy as a machinist mate on the nuclear submarine USS Springfield. He now works as a mechanical maintenance technical trades instructor at the Xcel Energy Nuclear Generating Plant in Monticello, Minnesota.
Photo Courtesy: Xcel Energy
A second support organization, Veterans in Energy, was launched in October 2016. The program seeks to encourage military veterans who are already working in energy to recruit more veterans into the energy sector. Veterans in Energy will provide resources so that current veteran employees will develop a reliable referral and support network to recruit and assist new veteran hires. Many utilities already have veteran employee resources groups, and other utilities will be encouraged to launch these groups in order to build a recruiting and support network.
Employee referral is the top recruiting technique used to bring new veteran hires to Xcel Energy’s two nuclear facilities-the Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant and Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant.
Among recently hired veterans is Charlie Deedrick, a former machinist mate on the USS Springfield. His ten-year naval career included four and a half years on the nuclear submarine, which provided Deedrick with experience in operations, maintenance, and radioactive waste disposal processes. As he was preparing to separate from the Navy, Deedrick considered jobs in several different industries such as a systems engineer position for a tech company. Then Deedrick contacted a former shipmate working for Xcel Energy’s Monticello plant and learned more about working in nuclear for a civilian employer. Deedrick applied for an opening at Xcel Energy and, because of his proven experience in the Navy, was hired as a mechanical maintenance technical trades instructor at the Monticello plant.
|Veterans in Energy was launched in October 2016. The program seeks to encourage military veterans who are already working in energy to recruit more veterans into the energy sector.
Photo Courtesy: Xcel Energy
Despite positive results, veterans and employers continue to encounter obstacles in hiring and transitioning to the energy sector. The partners who launched Veterans in Energy are lending their expertise to address these concerns. The initiative formed as a result of a recommendation by the Utility Industry Workforce Initiative, which is a partnership between the U.S. Departments of Energy, Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs; policy groups including NEI, the EEI, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the American Public Power Association, and the American Gas Association; and two labor unions. Collectively, the organization represents 3,000 utility and energy companies nationwide. Founding members are optimistic about the future of Veterans in Energy because it is modeled after other successful employee resource groups such as Women in Nuclear. Ultimately the goal is to provide structure and resources to a grassroots network of members who will be connected to a national organization. If it works as intended, it has the potential to create a new pipeline for potential veteran hires.
There’s strong enthusiasm about new ways to reach veteran job candidates. Here are examples of effective initiatives from award-winning programs:
Dominion Resources, Inc.
Approximately one-third of Dominion’s veteran hires are employed in the company’s nuclear business. Its high-level approach for successful recruiting focuses on relationships and awareness. Dominion makes a point to establish strong relationships with the Transition Offices, Transition Managers, and leadership at each military installation where it has established partnerships.
The company holds information sessions through the Transition Offices, maintains a strong social media presence, and has created a veteran employee resource group, the Dominion Veterans Network (DVN). Dominion’s Staffing department and the DVN work together at recruiting events to ensure military service members hear firsthand what it is like to work for Dominion.
Arizona Public Service
Arizona Public Service (APS) operates the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station and targets veterans specifically for pipeline programs in maintenance, operations, technical support, and security. APS representatives travel to military bases all around the country, hosting information sessions and participating in career fairs. The company works with academic partners such as Estrella Mountain Community College to encourage veterans to complete industry-specific education. APS also played an important role in helping assemble the Arizona Veterans Employment Summit in partnership with the Arizona Coalition of Military Families.
To foster an environment of inclusiveness that promotes hiring and retention, APS created an employee networking group, the Veteran Engagement Transition Retention Network (VETRN). APS provides VETRN with resources such as an intranet site for networking. They assist with the transition of veterans into the workforce and they work in the veteran community at large by organizing volunteer, outreach, and fundraising events. The U.S. Department of Defense presented APS with the 2014 Freedom Award in recognition of the efforts to provide jobs for military service men and women. The award is the highest recognition granted to employers with exceptional support of National Guard and Reserve employees.
By the third quarter of 2016, veterans comprised 32 percent of all new hires at Xcel Energy’s nuclear facilities. Xcel Energy has developed several innovative ways to address the need for a transition between military duty and civilian workforce. This year it created a new position: the military nuclear trainee. For six months to one year, trainees will complete a program that will introduce them to multiple departments at a nuclear site and allow them to participate in site projects. Xcel Energy provides mentoring, job training, and goal-setting for the trainee.
After the training period ends, the trainee is placed into a permanent position at the nuclear facility where their training occurred. By posting several openings for this position, Xcel Energy develops a steady stream of veteran hires entering its nuclear fleet. The job description is written intentionally to attract a nuclear military veteran so that he or she will feel confident that their military experience qualifies them to apply. The trainee job is similar to job shadow programs that involve military partnerships with private companies. However, this new military nuclear trainee job does not use GI Bill funding.
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