Veterans take a training at Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Manufacturing Demonstration Facility. | Photo credit: ORAU.

Veteran Ronald J. (R.J.) McIntosh receives a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from Rep. Suzan DelBene of Washington. | Photo courtesy of Rep. Suzan DelBene’s office

As we pause to observe Veterans Day, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) continues to pilot creative ways to develop pathways for clean energy companies to recruit and retain veterans into their companies.  The clean energy sector is well positioned to leverage the skills, talent, and experiences of approximately 250,000 individuals who transition annually to civilian careers from active duty service. The clean energy sector can also capitalize on the inherent resourcefulness of the 1.1 million members of the National Guard and Reserve, who are engaged in their civilian careers at the same time they serve. 

Many energy companies recruit veterans because they already possess the foundational skills at the base of all energy-related job competency models. Veterans — ingrained with the “get-it-done” approach of the U.S. military — possess a strong work ethic and are comfortable working both individually and as part of a team. Veterans also bring leadership, discipline, and problem-solving skills, honed during their time in the service, to their organizations.

In addition to their intangible skills, many transitioning service members and veterans have a technical skill set gained through military courses; making today’s U.S. military a highly technical force. Veterans work with complex equipment that they were trained on and then entrusted to operate, maintain, and repair. Translating existing military technical training certifications to civilian opportunities is a boon for clean energy companies. The U.S. military has a number of platforms — called Credentialing Opportunities On-Line, or COOL — to help both service members and companies understand which types of civilian careers apply to military occupation specialties. These websites include Army COOL and Department of Navy COOL (the Navy and Marine Corps), with the Air Force also moving to create a similar platform.

Growth and Opportunities in the U.S. Clean Energy Workforce

The clean energy workforce is expected to continue to expand significantly in the next several years. While specific forecasts vary by sector, positions are expected to grow in the solar and wind industries, the buildings and energy efficiency fields, as well as in manufacturing.

Some sub-sectors have gathered data that helps assess workforce projections.  One example is the annual census report conducted by The Solar Foundation. The census shows that the size of the solar workforce grew from 119,016 workers in 2012 to 142,698 full time professionals in 2013. In that same year, the solar industry reported employing nearly 13,200 veterans, or 9.2% of its total, a significant proportion.

As companies recruit veterans, understanding the opportunities enabled by the Post-9/11 GI Bill, allows both the private sector and veterans to bridge education and skill gaps to the mutual benefit of both.

Pathways & the Post-9/11 GI Bill

The Post-9/11 GI Bill, officially known as the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, includes numerous financial support options for veterans who have more than 90 days of service since September 10, 2001. These options include:

  • Graduate and undergraduate degrees,
  • Vocational and technical training,
  • On-the-job training,
  • Flight training,
  • Correspondence training,
  • Licensing and national testing programs,
  • Entrepreneurship training,
  • Tutorial assistance.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill gives veterans the opportunity to pursue education or skill training en route to the workforce.  It does not, however, support summer internships outside of the classroom.  This gap provides an opportunity for the clean energy industry to develop its talent pipeline through 10-week trial periods for potential candidates who are veterans.

In the last year, EERE has catalyzed several pilot programs that build on both the abilities of veterans and the structure of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.  For example, the Federal Energy Management Program’s pilot Veterans Internship Program provided eight student-veterans valuable experience while researching and analyzing federal energy management challenges.  The program is continuing for a second year.

Similarly, this past summer in Tennessee, 19 veterans participated in a six-week advanced manufacturing course, piloted by the Advanced Manufacturing Office and conducted by Pellissippi State Community College, Oak Ridge Associated Universities, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  During the course, participants combined classroom and hands-on work in 3-D printing and other advanced manufacturing techniques. The course is transitioning into a one-year program that includes both academic coursework and a work-study component.

The SunShot Initiative is also working on solar training opportunities for transitioning service members through the Defense Department’s Skillbridge program, in which transitioning service members may pursue civilian workforce training and credentialing up to six months prior to separating from the military.  The solar program is expected to launch at three military bases in 2015.

Catalyzing the Veteran Talent Pipeline

Clean energy companies can create their own veteran talent pipelines by reinforcing local relationships as well as developing a strong digital presence.  Employers may search and read veteran resumes on the Veterans Employment Center, which launched in April. The service allows direct connections between veterans and employers who post open positions. Employers can also utilize the 2,500 America’s Job Centers nationwide run by the U.S. Department of Labor.  Approximately 1.3 million veterans are registered with these centers. In addition, the Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) office is a helpful resource for companies wishing to target current members of the National Guard and Reserve. Savvy companies can build on these resources and segment the veteran human capital market based on the types of positions they wish to fill and the technical or intangible skills associated with them.

Developing the veteran talent pipeline will require a sustained effort from many different sectors of American society.  Working together, clean energy companies, industry trade associations, and education and training partners in universities, community colleges, and vocational training centers are bringing the skills and talents of veterans into the clean energy sector. 

Michael Baskin is a 2002 West Point graduate and a former U.S. Army infantry officer with service in Afghanistan and Iraq.  More than 65 military veterans are working in the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.  Their new mission: helping create the clean energy economy today and a clean energy future for America.