In the next five years, nearly 40% of the nation's energy workforce may be eligible for retirement or leave their jobs due to attrition. As a result, the energy industry is developing programs to attract and train new workers for energy-related generation, transmission and distribution careers.

Utilities are demanding quality job candidates as they prepare to face a labor shortage. Our industry must replace these trusted, diligent and able employees with others who also can do the job of keeping the lights on. This is where America's veterans come in.

Thousands of skilled jobs will be available in the next five to 10 years. Utilities can help repay veterans for their service by hiring them for these open positions.

The cultures of the military and utilities are naturally compatible, and many of the skills that U.S. veterans possess are a good fit for the energy industry. For example, veterans have a strong work ethic and often have high risk awareness, safety consciousness, civic-mindedness and discipline.

Addressing High Unemployment Rates

Our returning troops face a 12% overall unemployment rate if they have left military service in the past decade. This is 3% higher than the national unemployment rate. Males 18 to 24 years old must contend with a 27% unemployment rate when they transition from military service. In 2010 alone, the federal government paid US$882 million in unemployment benefits to newly discharged servicemen and servicewomen.

This describes a situation that goes well beyond unacceptable. It is a national disgrace. And this is the moral case for Troops to Energy Jobs, a two-year program piloted by five utilities: American Electric Power, Arizona Public Service Co., Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern Company and Dominion.

This program aims to foster collaboration between the energy industry and the U.S. armed services. This will allow job recruiters to be able to identify veterans' current training and pinpoint what additional skills are needed for certain energy careers. The goal is to speed up — and streamline — the process of moving from the front lines to the line worker. Veterans can then successfully trade a helmet for a hardhat.

Business Benefits of Hiring Veterans

There is also an equally strong business case for seeking to place veterans in energy jobs. The Obama administration has acknowledged the job needs of our veterans by offering a $9,600 tax credit to companies for each unemployed veteran they hire.

Former servicemen and servicewomen can also help utility companies to provide reliable service. Utilities' national security, national defense, technology and technological innovation, and economic growth all depend on efficient and reliable operation of their power stations and power grid.

Americans take it for granted that the lights will come on each time they flip the switch and that their homes will be warm on cold winter nights. But without the work of skilled, dedicated power station and gas pipeline operators, line workers, technicians, engineers, pipefitters, pipelayers and welders, utilities could not meet these critical needs and provide many modern conveniences.

Taking Action

Recognizing the serious workforce challenge, the Edison Electric Institute, the American Gas Association, the Nuclear Energy Institute, unions, contractors and cooperatives formed a non-profit consortium of gas and electric utilities five years ago. The Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD) is preparing for the looming worker shortage at America's utilities. Its mission is simple: “Build the alliances, processes and tools to develop tomorrow's energy workforce.”

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, between 190,000 to 200,000 active duty personnel will separate from the military annually over the next quarter century. In response, Troops to Energy Jobs has been designed to establish an ongoing process of outreach, recruiting, education and training to create a roadmap for military personnel to transition from the service into civilian energy careers. These jobs are well-paying, highly skilled and technically difficult. While military training provides many tools, we cannot expect our veterans to walk directly into a job as a line worker or technician.

Troops to Energy Jobs strives to develop career pathways efficiently and make use of the extensive training already acquired by our veterans and offer the additional credentials they need to succeed in the energy sector. Those separating from the military can fill crucial, rewarding jobs, while continuing to defend U.S. national interests, economic vitality and the American way of life.

Thomas F. Farrell, II is the chairman of Edison Electric Institute and chairman, president and CEO of Dominion. He grew up on Army installations, and three generations of his family have served in the military, including his uncle, who sacrificed his life in World War II.