Troops to Energy Jobs: Placing Veterans in Utility Careers

As we reflect on Labor Day we recognize the contributions American workers have made so that our country could become the greatest economic power in the world. Their drive, ingenuity and effort are unmatched. We salute those who have toiled to improve the lot of their families and their nation alike.

We also pause to think about America’s future labor force. With Baby Boomers entering their retirement years, to whom will they pass the torch? Are businesses prepared and equipped to meet this workforce challenge? Will those replacing retirees possess the skills and training necessary for success?

Business leaders, union leaders and human resources professionals have been mulling these questions for quite some time. Indeed, in the electric and gas utility industry, an organization was created to find solutions – and find them fast.

In 2009, the Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD) commissioned a study with astounding conclusions. More than one-third of the nation’s utility workers could leave their jobs in the coming decade – either through attrition or retirements. In some critical occupations – such as plant operators, lineworkers, technicians, pipefitters, pipelayers, welders, engineers, security and nuclear workers – about half of those jobs could become vacant.

The question was both simple and complex: Where could we find potential workers whose skills and temperament would translate well in the utility sector?

One answer – also simple and complex: in the military.

Think about it. Service veterans are motivated, disciplined, serious, safety-conscious and risk-aware. That is an extraordinary combination of tools for any employer. Add in civic-minded, and that is a man or woman any gas or electric utility would covet. But the pathways to utility jobs have largely been cluttered with obstacles preventing smooth and timely transitions – and, in some cases, careers in our field.

The workforce challenge and the desire to place military veterans into utility careers laid the groundwork for Troops to Energy Jobs, which was launched by the Edison Electric Institute and Dominion in 2011.

Dominion’s involvement is personal to me. I was born on an Army post. My father and grandfather served. My uncle made the ultimate sacrifice in World War II.

America is a patriotic nation. Our expressions of fidelity to the men and women who wear the uniform and voluntarily go into harm’s way on our behalf are sincere and heartfelt. Expressions and feelings are not enough. Good will is not enough. We must back those up with action. We owe our troops a debt of gratitude that must be translated into something more useful and meaningful than a mere “thank you.”

Recruiting, hiring and retaining military veterans is not only a good thing to do. It is the right thing to do.

Troops to Energy Jobs is designed to create an ongoing process of outreach, recruiting, education and training to serve as a roadmap for military personnel to transition into civilian careers in the energy field.

This is not entirely an act of altruism. We need these men and women. We need their skills and their demonstrated capacity for handling authority and providing leadership.

The program is a consortium – the utility sector working hand-in-hand with colleges and universities, with the service branches, with state governments and with our unions. All parties are working together to place veterans in good-paying, rewarding jobs.

Through this collaboration, our recruiters will know what training and skills those leaving the military already have, and how that fits the training and skills required for energy careers. A “bridge curriculum” – establishing how to count military education already received as part of the educational requirements for our jobs – is at the program’s core.

Since January 1, 2011, Dominion has hired 404 veterans. In 2013, veterans made up 20 percent of our new hires.

Dominion is not alone.

Joining Dominion in the original pilot program were utilities from across the country – the Southern Company, American Electric Power, Arizona Public Service, Pacific Gas & Electric and National Grid. Troops to Energy Jobs has continued to expand.

In Virginia, lawmakers passed legislation authorizing the creation of the Virginia Values Veterans – or V3 – organization. A second annual summit was held on August 28, with a goal to encourage the sharing of best practices of recruiting, hiring, mentoring and retaining veterans among employers and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced a partnership with industry leaders from the state’s five gas and electric utilities to develop a plan to place veterans leaving active duty into careers in the utility field. That partnership is using Troops to Energy Jobs as its model.

During the two-year pilot phase we learned that success in veteran employment depends on more than merely recruiting and hiring them. We learned that our troops need support before they leave the military – and, of course, during the hiring process. Most important, they need adequate resources and military-friendly corporate cultures – after they are hired.

We learned that there is a significant language barrier of sorts that makes it challenging for veterans to transfer skills, earn the right credentials and find jobs that fit their wants and needs.

We have addressed the challenges and impediments for veterans entering private-sector utility jobs, and have incorporated these lessons into a comprehensive plan that includes the military, higher education, our union partners and more.

On this Labor Day, we recognize the workers of yesteryear – and the workers of tomorrow. Those leaving the service – with highly sought-after skills – can and should play a principal role in tomorrow’s utility workforce.

Thomas F. Farrell II is chairman, president and chief executive officer of Richmond, Va.-based Dominion.

Morning Consult