Veterans and Utilities: A Valuable Partnership

The brave men and women of the U.S. military spend years crafting special skills and developing traits that prepare them for the challenging assignments they will be given throughout their terms of service. They receive orders for tours of duty and venture without hesitation into places steeped in peril and instability. Because of their consistently courageous responses to unimaginable challenges, civilians herald America’s servicemen and women as heroes. How can we begin to repay our veterans for defending our freedom? When their service to our country is through, it should be our responsibility to assist in easing their transition to civilian life.

Transitioning from the military can be both an exciting and a complicated time in a veteran’s career. For those shifting their focus from national security to job security, however, finding employment can be a daunting task—especially in today’s economy. From the beginning of their job search, veterans are faced with several statistics that paint a bleak picture:

  • The overall unemployment rate for those who have left military service in the past decade is 12%—more than 3 percentage points higher than the national unemployment rate.
  • The current unemployment rate for males ages 18 to 24 who have served and transitioned into civilian life is far worse: 27%.
  • A recent Pew Research Center Survey reveals that 44% of newly discharged veterans say the transition to civilian careers is “difficult.”
  • The U.S. government paid $882 million in unemployment benefits to newly discharged service personnel in 2010 alone.

How We Help

Electric utility industry leaders have made it our collective job to help veterans find employment. Hiring veterans is a priority because they possess the skills the energy industry needs. Southern Company joins other leading investor-owned utilities in believing that our veterans’ proven commitment to pride, duty, honor, and discipline adds significant value to our company’s overall success. This symmetry in approach is a major reason why Southern Company consistently ranks among the top military employers in any industry.

Founded in 2006, the Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD) is a nonprofit consortium of electric, natural gas, and nuclear utilities and their associations, including the Edison Electric Institute, American Gas Association, Nuclear Energy Institute, and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. CEWD has structured programs and initiatives to help prepare for the pending retirement of a large number of the electric utility industry’s most experienced employees.

In 2011, CEWD projected that as many as 200,000 workers—more than a third of the total workforce—could leave jobs at gas and electric utilities in the next five years as they reach retirement age or depart due to attrition. CEWD has been at the forefront of recruiting and developing the next generation of utility workers. As more of our service personnel return home from abroad, our industry is working to find a better way to say, “Thank you.” Our solution? Employ them.

A Mutually Beneficial Partnership

In March 2011, former CEWD Chairman and Dominion Resources Chairman, President, and CEO Thomas F. Farrell II launched the Troops to Energy Jobs (TEJ) initiative. Six companies—Southern Company, American Electric Power, Dominion, Pacific Gas & Electric, Pinnacle West/Arizona Public Service, and National Grid—have taken the lead in piloting the TEJ initiative. The initiative is designed to help those leaving the service make a successful transition from the military to a civilian career.

Veterans spent their military careers protecting national security and are, among many things, battle-tested, self-motivated, and safety-conscious—traits that transfer well to the utility industry. As these companies hire veterans, they are ensuring the continued production and delivery of power to American homes and business. In their own way, these service personnel are continuing to protect national security as they work to deliver a product that fuels our lives and powers our economy.

With many electric industry employees currently or soon to be eligible for retirement, critical positions such as lineworkers, power station and field operators, technicians, engineers, pipefitters, pipelayers, and welders will experience large numbers of vacancies. For veterans, however, these vacancies will present opportunities to help ensure the safe, efficient, and reliable production and delivery of power across the country. These jobs are both challenging and rewarding, and they provide competitive compensation and professional growth opportunities.

Why Troops to Energy Jobs Works

The TEJ initiative is designed to establish and maintain outreach to groups and companies to assist in recruiting qualified veterans. By creating a roadmap, companies participating in TEJ are helping to ease the transition for service personnel into a civilian career. In utility terms, this initiative streamlines the process of moving from front line to line worker.

One of TEJ’s key components is accelerating the time needed to earn a degree or required credential to enter skilled utility positions. By working with community colleges to accept full college credit for military training, veterans will be able to reach the post-secondary credential faster. CEWD is also working to identify and implement certificate programs to bridge gaps in veteran education, allowing veterans to move more quickly into energy positions. CEWD is collaborating with military trainers, faculty at community colleges, and technical trainers within the companies to compare the training and skills of those leaving the service with the training and skills necessary for available utility jobs.

The opportunity to employ our nation’s heroes is a win-win proposition benefitting America’s service personnel, the utility industry as a whole, and everyone who depends on us for the continued delivery of clean, safe, reliable, and affordable power.

Susan Story is president and CEO of Southern Company Services and chair of the Center for Energy Workforce Development.