Witness Testimony of Mr. John Simon, Senior Vice President, Human Resources, Pacific Gas & Electric Company, On Behalf of: The Center for Energy Workforce Development
Good afternoon, I am John Simon, Senior Vice President of Human Resources for Pacific Gas & Electric Company. Chairman Flores, Ranking Member Takano and the other esteemed members of the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, thank you very much for allowing me to participate in today’s hearing and share my company’s and our industry’s perspective of veteran hiring in the energy industry.
PG&E is one of the largest combined natural gas and electric utilities in the United States. Headquartered in San Francisco, with more than 20,000 employees, the company provides natural gas and electric service to approximately 15 million people—or 1 in 20 Americans—throughout a 70,000-square-mile service area in northern and central California. In line with PG&E’s commitment to workforce development and training, and in partnership with the Center for Energy Workforce Development’s (CEWD) Troops to Energy Jobs program, PG&E has been a leader in providing job training to military veterans who want to work in the utility industry. In 2013, PG&E hired 225 veterans, most of whom we trained through our PowerPathwayTM program.
I am testifying today on behalf of CEWD, which was formed in March 2006. CEWD is a non-profit consortium of electric, natural gas and nuclear utilities and their associations—the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), American Gas Association, Nuclear Energy Institute and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. CEWD was formed to help utilities identify and develop effective solutions to address the pending workforce shortages facing the utility industry. It is the first partnership between utilities, their associations, contractors, and unions to focus on the need to build a skilled workforce pipeline that will meet future industry needs.
Response to Declining Utility Workforce
In 2013, CEWD projected that as many as 200,000 electric and natural gas utility workers, an estimated 40 percent of all utility employees, could leave their jobs in the next five years as they reach retirement age or depart due to attrition. This means that, in the near-term, the country will need thousands of engineers, technicians, lineworkers, plant operators, and pipefitters for jobs in traditional energy industries, as well as jobs associated with the advancement and deployment of new technologies and innovations, including smart grid, advanced end use energy efficiency, and electric vehicles.
At the same time our nation’s utility companies are looking to fill vacancies today and into the future, veterans are returning from active duty and having trouble finding employment. Many are unable to identify a clear pathway toward employment, despite having acquired very desirable and needed skills during their military service. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 190,000 to 200,000 active-duty personnel will separate from the military annually over the next quarter of a century.
The need for a quality, high-skilled energy workforce, coupled with a pipeline of qualified veterans looking for employment, creates a ‘win-win’ opportunity for our industry. Tapping into the pool of ready and able veterans leaving military service will play a crucial role in helping the utility industry build the workforce of tomorrow.
Troops to Energy Jobs
There is no better way to honor our nation’s returning veterans than to provide them with the support they need to successfully transition to civilian life. Troops to Energy Jobs, an initiative by CEWD in partnership with EEI and six pilot utility companies, including PG&E, helps connect our veterans to rewarding careers in the energy sector. The pilot program began in 2010 under the visionary leadership of Dominion Chairman, President and CEO Thomas F. Farrell II, who was then chairman of EEI. As one of the pilot companies of Troops to Energy Jobs, PG&E is extremely proud of how the program has progressed and helped to establish a needed and natural employment pipeline between the military and the nation’s energy sector.
The nation’s electric and natural gas utilities have long been leaders in hiring military veterans. In fact, 11 of the 100 companies honored as top military friendly employers by GI Jobs Magazine are utilities, including PG&E.
While the utility industry has an enviable track record in military recruiting and has long been considered a military-friendly employer, previous efforts had been scattered and uncoordinated. The goal of the Troops for Energy Jobs pilot program was to develop an effective national model for connecting veterans to rewarding energy careers in a systematic, coordinated, best-practices manner available to all utilities to use.
The return on investment is strong for companies since military veterans have the training and skills that directly correlate to the skills required for technical, engineering, and support positions in energy companies. Veterans are adept in critical assessment, problem solving, and thinking on their feet and outside of the box. They are a natural fit for the energy industry in important areas such as safety, leadership, and understanding the importance of following established processes and procedures.
Energy companies need employees who are committed to serving customers and their communities. With their strong sense of pride, honor, duty, discipline, focus on safety, and leadership excellence, veterans fit the industry’s culture and add significant value to companies’ success. A strong workforce is critical to meeting our nation’s future energy needs and for supporting economic growth. For example, over the next decade, the utility industry plans to invest nearly $2 trillion to enhance the resiliency and reliability of the nation’s electric system, as well as integrate new clean energy technologies and comply with new environmental and reliability standards and regulations. This massive investment translates into the need for thousands of highly skilled workers and provides an opportunity for qualified candidates to secure long-term careers in the utility industry.
In 2013, Troops to Energy Jobs moved from the pilot phase to the point where a National Template was developed and launched. This Template can be used by the entire industry for military outreach, education, recruiting, and retention. The National Template offers veterans a road map with step-by-step guidance on how to transfer their military training to new energy careers.
Troops to Energy Jobs also includes a website, www.troopstoenergyjobs.org, that provides detailed information and resources to veterans who are considering a career with the electric and natural gas utility industry. The website includes an online roadmap, with step-by-step instruction on how to match their military skills to energy jobs, as well as information on how to continue their education to obtain required credentials or degrees. The real time job site also includes daily updates of job openings for CEWD members and access to a virtual career coach. Most recently, the website has been updated to include a registration section where veterans can register their job interest, military skills, and ultimate location once they leave the military. That information is matched with utility employers in each state to give veterans advance notice of jobs and opportunities.
Once on the job, mentors with prior military experience and industry tenure help veterans transition into the company and continues to work with them throughout their careers. The National Template also allows companies to tailor their own Troops to Energy Jobs initiative to match individual company needs and goals and to ensure that veterans do not hit roadblocks as the on-board into the company.
By recruiting and hiring veterans, energy companies create opportunities for talented individuals who otherwise may not have entered our industry. We are providing veterans a pathway, helping them to reach their full potential in a rewarding energy career.
Troops to Energy Jobs has a promising future, as the program continues to provide dedicated, well-trained, and highly disciplined servicemen and servicewomen a pathway toward stable, well-paying jobs in the private sector that closely fit their military skills.
PG&E PowerPathway Program
With more than 40 percent of PG&E’s workforce eligible for retirement in the near future, our company created its veteran-hiring program called PowerPathway™. This innovative program is building a skilled workforce to deliver the high quality of service our customers expect. By partnering with educational and workforce investment systems, labor, and industry employers, PG&E is cultivating and preparing veterans for high-demand positions at our company and throughout the electric utility industry.
Over the course of the program’s five years, more than 250 veterans have graduated from PowerPathway, with 100 graduates in 2013 alone. Since 2010, veterans have comprised seven percent of PG&E’s hires.
One such veteran who benefitted from the PowerPathway program is Erick Varela. Mr. Varela served as a non-commissioned Army officer in Iraq, but when he returned home in 2008 he struggled to find a steady job, which left him and his family homeless for about a year. Mr. Varela’s life took a turn for the better when he learned about PG&E’s PowerPathway program.
Mr. Varela applied to the program, was accepted, and, upon graduation, was hired as an apprentice electrician. In January, he had the honor of introducing President Obama at a White House event on long-term unemployment, where he also spoke about his experiences and the industry’s efforts to connect military veterans to rewarding energy careers. Mr. Varela’s journey is a testament to the results that can be achieved as a result of the industry’s workforce development and veteran-hiring initiatives.
PowerPathway creates programs and partnerships to train and produce skilled and diverse workers needed by PG&E and the energy industry. The program also enlarges the talent pool of qualified, diverse candidates for skilled craft and utility industry jobs through training partnership programs with educational, community-based, and government organizations.
Recognized by the National Commission on Energy Policy as a best practice program, by Clean Edge’s Clean Tech Job Trends as an organization to watch, and through a partnership with the White House and Skills for America’s Future Initiative, PG&E’s PowerPathway program is a distinguished leader in workforce development.
Additional Veteran Workforce Initiatives
Continuing its commitment to veterans, PG&E also established a Veterans Employee Resource Group (ERG) in 2011. The ERG’s goal is to educate, support and develop PG&E employees with military experience. In two years, more than 700 employees have joined the group, which is open to all employees, regardless of veteran status. The use of employee resource groups is an example of one of the best practices documented in the Troops to Energy Jobs initiative.
PG&E also is proud of its involvement in the Nuclear Uniform Curriculum Program, an industry initiative that established a partnership with 38 community colleges to educate the next generation of nuclear workers to a high and consistent standard.
In August 2012, the civilian nuclear energy industry and the U.S. Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program signed the first formal agreement between the two parties, which aims to bring personnel leaving the Navy to work in the nuclear field. More than 30 companies have signed the contract, which gives nuclear-trained naval employees the opportunity to have their contact information provided to industry recruiters. With this agreement, the Navy has the ability to recruit program graduates to serve as nuclear-trained sailors.
Because of PG&E’s efforts to recruit, train, and hire veterans, our company has been designated as a 2014 Top-100 Military Friendly Employer® by Victory Media, publisher of G.I. Jobs Magazine. This is the second consecutive year, and the third time overall, that the utility has been recognized by the publication. PG&E was one of more than 5,000 companies that competed for the honor.
Over the next several years, the electric and natural gas industries will need to hire hundreds of thousands of workers. We recognize there is a strong correlation between the skill sets the power sector needs and those that veterans possess. PG&E and the electric power industry are committed to training veterans for energy industry careers through programs such as Troops to Energy Jobs, PowerPathway and other initiatives. We appreciate the opportunity to testify about these programs to the Subcommittee.