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Transitioning troops may plug into utility jobs

June 30, 2015 (Photo Credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Four federal agencies and five utility trade associations have launched an initiative aimed at increasing job opportunities in the utility industry for transitioning troops, veterans and military spouses.

Partners in the Utility Industry Workforce Initiative include the departments of Energy, Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs.

The Energy Department projects that the energy sector — which includes transmission, storage and distribution — will grow by another 1.5 million workers by 2030.

The initiative reflects the direction of the recent Quadrennial Energy Review, which stated that investments are needed to modernize the country's energy infrastructure and create additional job opportunities in the energy sector.

The overall project will assess how military training requirements align with job requirements throughout the utility industry. Government and private-sector officials will work to improve existing tools that match service members and veterans with employment opportunities in the utility industry.

The launch of the initiative "is an announcement that we're going to work together to figure this out," said Ann Randazzo, executive director of the Center for Energy Workforce Development, one of five industry groups taking part.

The Utility Industry Workforce Initiative "will look at policy changes needed on the national level," Randazzo said. "It's to identify what some of the barriers are, and to work with some of the agencies to put policies in place" to help transitioning troops, veterans and military spouses develop careers in the industry.

For example, veterans leave service with training that must be translated so the vets get credit for what they already know, whether they're working toward a degree or applying for a job.

"They need to understand the jobs and how their training fits, and we need to understand what the veterans bring," Randazzo said. "We've been working with our members to help them understand that military members may even come in [to their company] with a higher level of training" than needed, she said.

Three "languages" are in play — military, education and utility, she said. "We need to get on the same level in terms of what all of it means."

Veterans have technical skills that the utility industry needs, Randazzo said. They've been trained to pay attention to safety, they are dedicated to their work, they know the value of teamwork.

"Technical skills and all those [traits] that make you a good employee are what we see from the veteran population," she said.

At this point, the initiative is taking a high-level look at issues. There is no commitment yet to implement training programs, she said.

Some programs are already in place to help troops transition into utility jobs, such as the center's Troops to Energy Jobs program, active since 2011 and being used in various forms by a number of companies. Randazzo said there is interest in broadening that program to include military spouses.

The electric utility industry will need to replace nearly half its workforce over the next decade. "Our industry is facing significant retirements of our existing workforce, and we are working together to develop solutions and approaches to identify a talented, high-skilled and innovative industry workforce for the future," said Tom Kuhn, president of Edison Electric Institute, in a company announcement of its participation in the initiative.

EEI is one of the five utility trade associations that are taking part, along with the Center for Energy Workforce Development, the Nuclear Energy Institute, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the American Gas Association.

"The leadership abilities, mission focus, commitment to safety, and team orientation that military service members consistently demonstrate are exactly the skills our industry needs in its workers," Kuhn said.

The Utility Industry Workforce Initiative will promote and design training and credentialing opportunities to help ease the entry of veterans, transitioning service members and military spouses into the utility industry. That will include apprenticeships and training that can use federal training resources like the DoD SkillBridge authority.

DoD and the individual services will recruit troops into an eight- to 12-week training program through DoD SkillBridge, allowing service members who meet certain qualifications to participate in civilian job and employment training in various types of industries, starting up to six months before they separate.

The training must offer a high probability of employment, and must be provided to the service member at little or no cost.

One example of training in the energy industry already offered through the Energy Department and DoD SkillBridge is the Solar Ready Vets program at 10 military bases, with pilot programs at Camp Pendleton, California; Fort Carson, Colorado; and Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, to prepare troops for careers in the solar industry as solar photovoltaic system installers, sales representatives, system inspectors and other solar-related careers.

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