Arizona utility joins pilot program to connect veterans to energy industry jobs

Arizona utility joins pilot program to connect veterans to energy industry jobs

Bob Powers, chairman of the Center for Energy Workforce Development, speaks at Monday’s launch of the Troops to Energy Jobs program at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Cristina Rayas)

WASHINGTON – Arizona Public Service is one of five companies taking part in a national initiative to hire veterans for some of the 200,000 jobs that could come open in the energy industry over the next five years.

The Troops to Energy Jobs program aims to capitalize on veterans’ skills, like their focus on safety, that make them uniquely qualified to work in an industry like energy, where “safety is paramount,” said APS President and CEO Don Robinson. The two-year pilot program, unveiled Monday, is set to begin Sept. 1.

The program comes at a time when nearly one of every three energy employees in the country will be eligible for retirement by 2016, said Tom Farrell, president and CEO of Virginia-based Dominion Resources, another of the five companies in the pilot program. Farrell was citing a 2009 study from the Center for Energy Workforce Development, which developed the Troops to Energy Jobs program.

The potential for turnover is even greater at APS, where 43 percent of employees will be eligible for retirement by 2014, leaving a huge opportunity for new hires, Robinson said.

Those kinds of potential workforce shortages sparked the 2006 creation of the center, a coalition of electric, natural gas and nuclear power companies to seek solutions for workforce shortages in the utility industry.

“A skilled energy workforce is critical to America’s national security and economic competitiveness,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu at Monday’s announcement.

But Dave Hampton, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Veteran Services, cited U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 20 percent of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are unemployed. He and the backers of the Troops to Energy Jobs program said veterans are a well-trained population for work in the energy industry.

“They are dependable, disciplined, and know how to be on time,” Hampton said. “They’ve matured much more than their peer group that has not been in the military.”

Lori Sundberg, APS senior vice president of human resources, said that energy companies like hers will be looking to hire veterans across all departments, from technical positions to security and office jobs, like financial and legal work. Interested veterans can contact APS at [email protected].

Robinson said 700 veterans already work for APS and the company plans on hiring another 50 to 100 over the next two years. He said trying to hire vets is “also just the right thing to do.” But that does not mean APS will stop hiring well-qualified civilian workers either, he said.

Hampton agreed that the best-qualified people will still be “first in line” for any utility jobs, but said that veterans have a leg up on people who have not served in the military.

Hampton said hiring veterans is the best thing a company can do. He said one of the biggest challenges returning veterans face is reacquainting themselves with their families. Worrying about finding a job, too, “certainly adds to the stress.”

Chu said said the energy industry, with all the upgrades and efficiency innovations it will require for its future, are all job generators.

“We do owe it to them,” Chu said of veterans who might be hired into the program.

But Farrell said the industry needs those workers as much as the vets need the jobs.

“This is not entirely an act of altruism,” he said. “We need these men and women, we need their skills, and their demonstrated capacity for handling authority and providing leadership.”