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Industry Spotlight: Powering up your career in the energy industry
by Heidi Lynn Russell, Contributing Editor

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Article Sponsored by: Crete Carrier

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The energy industry is so hungry to hire military veterans that when recruiters go to job fairs, “sometimes we physically grab them as they go by,” says Elton Richards, regional manager at ComEd and a retired Army 1st Sgt.

Problem is, most veterans’ eyes glaze over when they see an energy company’s moniker, because they just don’t think they have what it takes to land a job.

But nothing could be further from the truth, say Richards and other industry insiders.

hire military veterans“A lot of times, senior NCOs and officers forget that leadership is a skill and believe that the only thing they have is the background in a specific job,” Richards says. “They see ‘utility’ at a job fair and think they have no experience.”

Not only that, there are jobs for everyone, even if you spent your entire military career driving a tank, says Ann Randazzo, Executive Director of Center for Energy Workforce Development. The non-profit, in Washington, D.C., is a consortium of electric, natural gas and nuclear utilities and their associations. They work together to find solutions to the coming workforce shortage in the utility industry.

Ironically, the same industry that veterans may not consider is one whose mission closely aligns with theirs: an obligation to serve, Randazzo says. A perfect example of how the mission mentality plays out was during Hurricane Sandy, when “people jumped in trucks and helped people get their lives back together,” she says.

“In a lot of cases, the utilities are the first responders. We put together the logistics that have to happen. All that is the same kind of thing you’re trained to do in the military. As utilities, we have an obligation to serve. We are here to make sure that the lights come on and that you have safe, reliable electricity and power. That’s the way our economy grows. So having people who have that service mentality is most fundamental to us for the equipment and processes. A person can learn those things, but it’s difficult to learn that service mentality if you don’t already have it,” Randazzo says.

During the next decade, nearly 62 percent of the energy industry has the potential to retire or leave for other reasons, according to a 2011 survey that the Center conducted. With retirements inevitable, utilities “recognize we need to be able to make it easier for people to find our jobs right now,” Randazzo says, adding that she expects to see more and more “good jobs” in the next five to 10 years.

Top Energy Job Outlook

The five critical job categories the energy industry is most concerned to fill are line workers, power plant operators, transmission and distribution technicians for electric and natural gas companies, generation technicians and engineers. Between 2009 and 2011, the number of workers decreased specifically in the areas of line workers, transmission and distribution technicians and plant operators, according to the Center’s survey. Further, 36 percent of skilled utility technicians and engineers (excluding those in the nuclear area) may need to be replaced by 2015 due to retirements or attrition, the survey says. An additional 16 percent may need to be replaced by 2020, equating to nearly 110,000 employees.

Already, ComEd is seeing the fallout, say Richards and Suzanne Baugher, HR recruiting manager. The company is recruiting to hire military veterans to fill a number of positions, but especially for firstline supervisor, which is responsible for crew safety in the field and managing day-to-day projects “to keep the lights on,” Baugher says.

During the past 12 months, ComEd launched a pilot rotational program to hire military veterans to introduce them to various aspects of the company: safety, work management, environmental health, HR training and how to manage union personnel.

“We’re the only one out there with something this robust,” Baugher says. “We just piloted with four individuals but would love to have 36 next year.”

Other top jobs for which the company is recruiting are: safety and fleet, engineering (mostly electrical and mechanical) and technical field engineering. In addition, the company hires a significant number of veterans into meter reading jobs.

Troops to Energy Jobs Initiative

The Center for Energy Workforce Development has also launched its own pilot program to lure more veterans into the energy industry as a whole, Randazzo says. The Troops to Energy Jobs initiative (http://www.troopstoenergyjobs.com) involves six of the largest utility companies in the country. They provided resources, capital, and people and their experiences to figure out the best way to move military members into jobs, she says. Those companies are: American Electric Power, Arizona Public Service, Dominion, National Grid, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., and Southern Co.

In some cases, the Troops to Energy Jobs program helps veterans start working immediately in an energy industry-related job. Most companies hire professionals directly from the military for certain positions, which have been dubbed “ready now” jobs, Randazzo says.

As part of the program, career coaches are available both in person and online (offering virtual support) to help veterans determine how their knowledge and skill sets align with various energy careers. They can also help identify prior learning credits for which veterans are eligible through the American Council on Education’s CREDIT system.

And, once a veteran is hired, Troops to Energy Jobs provides mentors - veterans who are experienced in the new hire’s particular job category.

Randazzo advises that above all else, veterans shouldn’t box themselves into the line of thinking that their skills or experience won’t dovetail into a successful job in the energy industry.

“If you were driving a tank in the military, it’s true, there’s not much call for that. But, if you drove a tank, we have big vehicles and commercial driver’s licenses that transfer that skill easily. You can drive heavy machinery. Think about what you’ve done in civilian terms,” she says.

In the meantime, Randazzo advises that if the perfect job isn’t out there for a veteran’s specific skill sets, keep looking. The market is loosening up with the impending retirements and attrition.

“Sometimes you don’t get the job you’re trained for immediately. Take a job and keep an eye out. We know the jobs will open up in the next decade,” she says. “If you know you want to be a technician that works in a power plant, even there’s if not a job open today, establish the contact with the power company. Be able to know where to go to find the jobs and take something in the short term.”

Heidi Lynn Russell writes about employment and business issues.

 

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