A man stands in front of a windmill exhibit inside the Andrew Mellon Auditorium that is filled with an internactive and computer-operated show floor and stage for GE’s four-day event ‘American Competitiveness: What Works,’ February 13, 2012 in Washington, DC. As part of its ‘Hire Our Heroes’ program, General Electric says it will hire 5,000 veterans over the next five years and invest $580 million to expand its aviation business.
Faced with a need to fill more than 100,000 skilled jobs over the next eight years, US energy companies are working to attract veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with the experience needed in an industry that needs a large-scale upgrade in its infrastructure.
Utilities will need to replace an estimated 109,000 engineers, linemen, pipe-fitters and other skilled trades-people between 2010 and 2020 because of retirement and attrition, according to the Edison Electric Institute.
With a need to maintain and enhance electric infrastructure across the country, those vacancies are going to create opportunities for ex-soldiers who can bring the technical skills and a professional approach to their new civilian lives.
The Troops to Energy Jobs initiative, launched in 2011, is part of a drive to attract thousands of veterans with the skills that can be applied to the energy industry’s pressing needs.
“We think that veterans have many of the skills that our industry looks for,” said Mary Miller, chief administrative officer at the Institute.
Five energy companies are participating in a pilot program to facilitate the transition from military to civilian life for the returning veterans. That assistance may take the form of identifying the skills needed for an individual to become a utility worker, and then putting him or her on a fast-track to learning them, or working with local educational institutions to help vets get credit for their prior experience.
“If a veteran comes out of the service with certain credentials, we help that translate into our requirements,” Miller said.
In addition having specific skills, veterans are valuable for the energy industry because they are reliable and place a high priority on safety, she said. Read more about how the military is involved in cutting edge energy research and technology deployment on Breaking Energy here.
In Pennsylvania, where the booming natural gas industry is already creating thousands of energy jobs, there’s also a need for skilled workers to replace departing utility employees, and vets are well-placed to do that, said Robert Powelson, chairman of the state’s Public Utility Commission.
The Pennsylvania PUC is “cheerleading” for the veterans jobs program, and for another jobs initiative for returning troops announced by Governor Tom Corbett in his recent budget speech, Powelson said. The program is being run by the being run by the Center for Energy Workforce Development, of which EEI is a partner.
“One of the growth areas of our economy is the energy sector,” said Powelson, in an interview with Breaking Energy. “The demand to replace the infrastructure isn’t going away.”
There’s no subsidy or other financial incentive for utilities to participate in the program, Powelson said, but a sense of meeting the needs of servicemen and women who have served their country but often have a high rate of unemployment in making the transition to civilian life.
One of the growth areas of our economy is the energy sector” – Powelson
“This program is about how to help these individuals that have served their country with distinction,” he said.
Among the needs that can be filled by the incoming workers are smart grid enhancements like meter installations, or upgrades to electrical sub-stations. “Many of them have used those skill sets abroad,” he said.
For utilities looking to fill open positions, the vets represent a great opportunity, Powelson said.
“If I was a human-resources manager, what would keep me up at night is how I’m going to fill those positions,” he said. With the skills possessed by many returning vets, they are “almost a turnkey” for the energy industry.
Correction Notice: An earlier version of this story stated that the Troops to Energy Jobs Initiative was being spearheaded by EEI, rather than run by the Center for Energy Workforce Development.