Veterans in Energy Forum highlights power industry’s workforce challenges, solutions
ARLINGTON, VA — Some of the nation’s top energy industry executives think U.S. military veterans are among the most-qualified hires they can make to successfully transition the power industry into its next stage of operations.
“The military’s mindset of ‘we cannot fail’ is so helpful for our companies as we provide power for the country,” said Kimberly Greene, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Southern Company Gas, during a panel discussion held at the 2018 Veterans in Energy Forum here on Oct. 4.
Greene, who was one of six company executives who talked about why veterans make great employees in the energy industry, said her company counted veterans as 17 percent of new hires in 2017.
“We are committed to partnering with veterans and hiring more veterans,” she said about Southern Company Gas, an Atlanta-based Fortune 500 energy services holding company with operations that include natural gas distribution, wholesale services and retail operations.
The same holds true for stateside operations at the publicly traded National Grid, according to Timothy Horan, president and chief operating officer for the retail gas and electric distribution companies in Rhode Island. National Grid, the largest natural gas distributor in the Northeast, provides energy to nearly seven million customers in New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island and operates the systems that deliver gas and electricity across Great Britain.
“We are very supportive of our veteran employees and we see the benefits,” Horan said. “The skills that veterans in the military have in emergency and disaster response, for instance, have been extremely beneficial for our industry.”
“Our HR team is working closely with military bases to offer employment opportunities for people leaving the military who are interested in becoming line workers or director-level managers within our company,” said Horan, who added that the company’s in-house human resources outreach program – also known as an employee resource group – is one of many ways that National Grid reaches veterans.
Charles Matthews, president of Illinois operations for WEC Energy Group Inc., and president and CEO of Peoples Gas Light & Coke Co., and North Shore Gas Co., said Peoples Gas recently brought in 400 veterans to join the company.
“Now close to 50 percent of our workforce are veterans,” Matthews said during the forum’s CEO panel session.
Anne Pramaggiore, senior executive vice president and CEO for Exelon Utilities, agreed.
“Veterans make great employees in … management positions and in supply chain management positions within Exelon.” One of the things that veterans must learn as they transition to the power industry from the military is that “they must be able to shift roles; they have to learn to adjust to our culture,” she added.
The utilities have stepped up and in the last decade, Matthews noted that he’s seen more training and education programs come on line to entice military veterans to seek power industry jobs.
Veterans already have gained myriad valuable skills that are transferable to the energy sector, such as team building and leadership, he said, and now the challenge is for the industry to make prospective jobs exciting to veterans, “especially because we’re competing with the likes of companies like Apple.”
Likewise, Roanoke Electric Cooperative has “opportunities for veterans to gain employment in every position from line workers to directors,” said Curtis Wynn, president and CEO of the Virginia-based co-op. “We need to hire veterans because they can do it all!”
Veterans are particularly needed, Wynn said, because the energy sector is in the midst of major transformation. “This industry really needs you,” he told veterans attending the forum last week.
And as electric co-ops work to improve the quality of life in their rural communities, they seek to recruit talent for a wide variety of positions, said Wynn, including professionals to help co-ops expand broadband access.
Cybersecurity experience is another prerequisite that many veterans might have listed on their resumes, the panel participants said.
“There is a great focus on cybersecurity in the electric power industry today,” said session moderator Thomas Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the association of U.S. shareholder-owned electric companies. “There is no one better to help us defend our nation than our veterans.”
Greene of Southern Company Gas said her utility needs people who have been focused on cybersecurity “and people in the military have been.”
“We need people with these skills,” she said.
On the flip side, Ralph LaRossa, president and COO at PSEG Power, pointed out that the industry is valuable for veterans because of its focus on safety, teamwork and serving communities. Plus, employees get to work outside rather than being chained to a desk, he said.
“We need to educate more engineers for the electric power industry and veterans make great engineers,” said LaRossa, who also praised veterans’ skills in being able to immediately know how to handle unknown situations they may confront.
“The electric power industry has had success hiring veterans because they have a sense of mission and teamwork,” and military veterans will help the power industry become less “workforce-challenged,” said EEI’s Kuhn.
“It’s encouraging to hear the high emphasis on workforce development and utilization of veterans to take the energy industry into the future by our CEO panel,” Kuhn said.
In fact, according to Ann Randazzo, executive director of the Center for Energy Workforce Development, which oversees the Troops to Energy Jobs initiative, the industry currently already has huge workforce needs with more than 4,000 open positions currently listed on the TroopsToEnergyJobs.com tool.
CEWD, formed in March 2006, is a non-profit consortium of electric, natural gas and nuclear utilities and their associations — EEI, the American Gas Association, American Public Power Association, Nuclear Energy Institute, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and Distribution Contractors Association — that helps utilities collaborate and build a pipeline of skilled workers to meet the utility industry’s encroaching workforce shortage.
The TroopsToEnergyJobs.com website helps companies find qualified veteran candidates for their workforce, Randazzo said during the forum last Thursday.
Another way that companies work to make veterans feel included and boost their engagement is via in-house employee resource groups (ERGs), which engage and provide opportunities to connect, network and mentor incoming veterans, according to panelists during a separate forum discussion on Oct. 4.
Jennifer Herron, project manager for development at NextEra Energy, noted that “getting company executives involved in veteran recruitment through an ERG is very important.”
“We get tremendous support from our leadership,” said Amber Fogarty, the energy talent pipeline specialist at Consumers Energy. “This really helps us keep people, too.”
An ERG is most-often a voluntary, employee-led group that promotes a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with a company’s organizational mission, goals, business practices, and objectives. ERGs put efforts into developing future leaders from within, while also working to enhance employee engagement and increase the company’s marketplace reach, according to the panelists.
For instance, an ERG is a good way for utilities to increase a company brand by linking veterans with job prospects, career advancement and development, said Jamal Jessie, the senior military recruiting consultant at Southern Company.
“We take a boots-on-the-ground approach to recruiting veterans,” Jessie said. “We are on the ground on bases educating members of the military about our employment opportunities.”
Southern Company also reaches out to military veterans right when they decide to begin college after their service commitment ends to inform them about the benefits they could receive by working in the power industry.
An important aspect of an ERG, according to Paul Rose, corporate security leader for the Arizona Public Service Co., is to reinforce for veterans that the industry offers myriad supports for them, the least of which is building relationships.
“Veterans don’t recognize themselves as heroes,” Rose said. “It’s important to tell them, ‘You did something; you mean something.’ We have to let them know we’re all there to support each other.”
Consumers Energy, for example, provides supports such as mental health counseling and financial responsibility trainings to all employees, including veterans, said Fogarty.
Mike Richard, director of the construction and maintenance department at IBEW, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said one of the things the industry needs is to train HR teams to translate and understand veteran resumes.
“Veterans have different resumes than many other applicants, but the right experiences are there,” Richard said.
Added NextEra’s Herron: “The connections we make at conferences like this” Veterans in Energy Forum, and in local communities, also help utility companies find the right veterans for their open positions.
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