Navy Veteran Gary Watts is a recent graduate of Power4Vets, a project funded through the Office of Electricity and Energy Reliability's Smart Grid Workforce Development Program to put veterans back to work in civilian energy jobs. | Photo courtesy of Power4Vets

As Gary Watts anxiously awaited a call from Portland General Electric that would tell him when he would start his new job as a Balancing Operator, he recounted the last few years leading up to that moment. The U.S. Navy veteran had been unemployed since completing his eight years of military service, where he worked on a ship as a Navy Nuke - Electricians Mate, Load Dispatcher and Power Plant Operator. And though Gary had attended Nuke Power School following his basic training, he had had trouble transferring his extensive military training and skills into a job within the civilian electric utility industry.

“Right when I got out of the Navy, the job market started to really go downhill. I had been looking for work for a year and a half and had only gotten two job interviews.”

And like so many other people searching for employment, Gary attended a job fair, which is where he came across Power4Vets -- a workforce development program that recruits, trains, certifies, and places qualified veterans in energy management careers. The program is facilitated by Incremental Systems Corporation (IncSys), a company that uses real-time simulations to help operators, engineers and students learn necessary skills to help prevent major power system events and manage the Smart Grid.

Power4Vets is a program funded by Recovery Act money through the Energy Department’s Smart Grid Workforce Training program, which is helping to prepare the next generation of workers in the utility and electric industries for smart grid-related jobs. The Smart Grid is a developing network of transmission and distribution lines, equipment, controls and new technologies working together to respond immediately to our 21st Century demand for electricity – a critical component of the new clean energy economy.

Since the training is all Internet-based, Gary was able to complete the training in just four weeks. “Since I didn’t have a job, I was able to get all the online training done quickly. You could say I was really motivated to finish up and get to work.”

Gary graduated from the Power4Vets program and received his North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) certification earlier this year. Within months, Gary had three interviews with electricity companies – more than he had gotten in a year and a half searching for jobs on his own.

After taking his NERC certification test, Gary says Power4Vets started helping him find employment. “Even though I had skills all along that people wanted, I didn’t know how to transform my experience into [civilian] job titles. Power4Vets was exceedingly helpful in helping me find a job.”

Gary, who lives in Marysville, WA, with his wife of two years, says they are both excited about the new job and are looking forward to the adventure.

His new job as a Balancing Operator will relocate Gary to Portland, which is a four-hour drive from his home in Washington. And though his wife won’t be relocating to Portland right away, Gary says that compared to his time in the Navy, this is a piece of cake. “I was on the ship for 10 months at a time with just Internet. Now we have video chat and will visit each other on the weekends.”

In his new position, Gary will make sure the limits on the electrical system are monitored, which he says is closely related to what he was doing in the Navy. The machines are different, he said, but “electricity is still electricity.”

For more information on Power4Vets, visit IncSys’ Smart Grid Workforce Training program webpage, or go to the Energy Department's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability website to learn more.