As a former U.S. Army captain and combat engineer, I know what it’s like to embark on a new career path after finishing a military career. Making the transition to the civilian workforce can be daunting, overwhelming and paradigm-shifting.
Just ask my fellow veteran Matthew Stinnett, manager of transmission and distribution contracts for American Electric Power. He joined AEP four and a half years ago after a 20-year Army National Guard career that finished with a 14-month deployment in Iraq. Like many veterans, Stinnett admitted that the transition can be challenging when you have to find a job, learn the lay of the land and figure out how to succeed under a different set of rules.
For AEP, reaching out to veterans like Stinnett and helping them transition into utility jobs is a special call to action that has become critical. Attracting and retaining strong veteran job candidates is pivotal not just to our company’s future viability, but to the energy industry as a whole.
An Industry’s Transformation
When I look at the veteran community, I see a skilled, disciplined workforce that can help us succeed as our industry begins a period of rapid infrastructure modernization and expansion. Nationwide, utilities will need workers to replace an estimated 200,000 skilled baby boomers retiring in the next five years, one-third of the energy workforce.
At the same time, utilities across the U.S. are expected to invest $50 billion to modernize electric transmission infrastructure through 2020 (though the estimate could surpass $100 billion if additional investments are made to enhance communications and cyber security capabilities). Through 2020, AEP alone plans to spend billions to build around 480 new or enhanced transmission substations; roughly 1,800 miles (2,897 km) of new transmission lines; and about 3,900 miles (6,276 km) of rebuilt transmission lines between 2013 and 2015.
All of this is happening at a time when we also are focused on preparing ourselves for success in a competitive transmission business environment, which will require us to move quickly and finish projects on time and on budget. With this in mind, targeting military veterans who are transitioning to civilian careers makes sense. The skills and qualities veterans acquired in the armed forces — such as teamwork, respect for procedures, leadership and decision making — match the qualities necessary for us to succeed in a rapidly growing, competitive transmission landscape.
Veteran Outreach Efforts
At AEP — which G.I. Jobs magazine ranked among the country’s Top 100 “military friendly” corporations — we have taken a number of approaches to target the veteran community and connect them to skilled jobs. For example, instead of filtering through thousands of résumés, we work with veterans’ organizations and national and state jobs programs to locate veterans who have skill sets that match utility jobs.
This spring, AEP invited 30 selected veterans to an open house at the AEP Transmission training facility near Columbus, Ohio, U.S., for an up-close and personal view of the daily activities of linemen, station technicians, protection and control electricians, and other jobs. The event was cosponsored with veterans groups, and several of our 1,770 AEP military veterans — who compose 10% of our workforce — served as mentors during the event.
AEP seeks out veterans at traditional recruiting events, too. For example, we have participated in Hire Our Heroes, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce-sponsored job fair. And AEP is one of a handful of utilities that directs ex-military job applicants to an online “military occupational specialty” decoder that translates military skills, capabilities and training into civilian terms.
As we increasingly seek out veterans to join our ranks, we strongly encourage other utilities to leverage the talents of this community. AEP helped establish the Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD), a nonprofit consortium of utilities and industry associations formed in 2006 to address a workforce shortage across the utility industry. CEWD’s Troops to Energy Jobs program recently published a 54-page national model to help energy companies develop a comprehensive program for military outreach, education, recruiting and retention.
Through these collaborative efforts, we are determined to help provide veterans across our nation a road map to employment. By hiring veterans, we are ensuring that we have the skilled workforce needed to ensure continued generation and delivery of the reliable electricity that is essential to American homes, businesses and national security. In turn, we’re honoring the veterans who have fought so hard to protect our freedoms by helping them secure the economic prosperity they deserve.
Scott Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org) is AEP’s senior vice president for transmission strategy and business operations.