wo energy workforce development announcements over the past few weeks were driven by factors as various as private-sector shale gas exploration and carbon emissions regulation. But they have some things in common: The need to fill thousands of jobs fast, and the drive to connect to military veterans in their quest to do so.
U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz and federal officials from the U.S. Departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs met with energy sector CEOs in the Pittsburgh region in mid-July to frame a unique public-private partnership that will help connect military veterans and service members to in-demand energy jobs in this region.
Convened by the Energy Alliance of Greater Pittsburgh (EAGP) — a partnership of energy sector-related businesses, universities, nonprofits and research organizations — the roundtable focused on the future of the energy sector and the need for a globally competitive, skilled energy workforce. EAGP is a program of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and Innovation Works.
The CEOs and federal agency participants at the Roundtable agreed to execute three action steps that will accelerate training and hiring of transitioning service members and veterans into energy and manufacturing jobs:
“Pittsburgh is an ideal location to create the next-generation energy workforce, combining workforce training and advancing technologies," said Moniz. "The National Energy Technology Laboratory, one of 17 federal energy laboratories in the U.S., is located here. There is a growing energy sector due to the emergence of the shale gas industry, and there is strong support from community leaders. I think Pittsburgh is unique is bringing all of these strengths together in one place.
"A combination of factors, including continued technological advances and planned investments in the nation’s energy infrastructure, will create 1.5 million new jobs in the energy sector in the next 15 years," he continued. "We need to recruit, train and employ these workers to be ready to build and maintain our energy infrastructure and implement emerging technologies. This is truly an underappreciated opportunity for our nation. Now’s the time for us to take the lead and make our country more competitive globally.
The Pittsburgh region currently has over 25,000 open jobs, with 2,500 of those concentrated in high-demand energy and related manufacturing occupations. At the same time, the region faces a gap of about 140,000 potential workers as Baby Boomers retire over the coming years.
Programs such as ShaleNET, a natural gas training program developed by the Allegheny Conference in conjunction with education and training partners, have prepared hundreds of veterans for careers in the natural gas industry. Pittsburgh has been rated as the best place in the nation for veterans to pursue higher education and jump-start their civilian careers. The region is already home to about 200,000 veterans, and thousands more are expected to return in the next five years as 1 million service members transition out of the military.
Founded in 2010, ShaleNET has received $20 million in U.S. Department of Labor funding to develop and disseminate its education and training model. The program has trained over 6,000 participants, with more than 3,600 finding employment, more than a third of whom are veterans.
“We have seen firsthand the value that military veterans bring to the energy sector. At Peoples, we have hired veterans who have been ready to contribute from their first day on the job,” said Morgan O’Brien, CEO, Peoples Natural Gas and chair, Allegheny Conference on Community Development.
“We embarked on this partnership with the Departments of Energy, Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs late last year at the Hiring our Heroes event as we launched Service to Opportunity," said Dennis Yablonsky, EAGP co-chair and CEO of the Allegheny Conference. "Our regional online platform connecting veterans to employers. Today’s discussions are advancing our ongoing efforts to connect transitioning service members and veterans to the high-demand jobs in energy and manufacturing in this region."
“We see a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to develop a local workforce prepared for the skilled jobs that are anticipated in the growing regional energy and manufacturing industries,” said Nigel Hearne, president of Chevron Appalachia, based in Moon Township, Pa. “Chevron supports ShaleNET and Service to Opportunity to help connect young people entering the workforce, adults looking to re-train, and our returning military veterans with well-paying jobs that allow them to live, work, and thrive here in their hometowns.”
Transitions and Emissions
Out in California, a new website addresses the critical need for more highly skilled workers in California's advanced energy industry and promotes energy efficiency and utilities careers to students.
Developed by the California Community Colleges under the "Doing What MATTERS for Jobs and the Economy" framework, the website provides information about key initiatives and collaborations that assist the Advanced Energy industry in meeting priority education and training needs.
"Energy Efficiency and Utilities is a valued industry sector by many of California's regional economies," said Van Ton-Quinlivan, vice chancellor of workforce & economic development for the California Community Colleges. Ton-Quinlivan is vice chair of the National Skills Coalition, co-chair of the Workforce Action Team of the California Economic Summit, serves on the California Council on Science and Technology, and served on the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) Closing the Skills Gap Implementation Team.
In her previous role overseeing workforce development for PG&E, she conceived, developed and implemented PowerPathway, a best practice model program in workforce development recognized by the White House and industry. PowerPathway demonstrates that collaboration between industry, the public workforce system, education, and organized labor can effectively transition military veterans and members of underserved communities into well-paying energy sector jobs.
In April that program received the Faraday Award at the 18th Annual Electric Power Conference in Chicago. The award honors corporations that have successfully connected, employed and engaged veterans to become long-term employees in the power industry. Since the program’s inception six years ago in 2008, 600 people—including 300 veterans—have graduated with more than 80 percent having been hired by PG&E or the utility industry.
Estimated to be a $1.3-trillion global industry, the Advanced Energy industry is led by California through Silicon Valley technology and state policies mandating reductions in California's carbon emissions by the year 2020. As a result, at least 15,000 additional highly skilled workers are needed annually in California, according to Jim Caldwell, Energy Efficiency & Utilities Sector team navigator at California Community Colleges.
"Skill gaps grow as technology advances, while replacement of an aging workforce creates the statewide need for aggressive workforce development measures," Caldwell explains.
Guided by a statewide industry advisory council, EE&U Sector Team builds regional workforce collaboration with industry associations, labor associations, community-based organizations, and government agencies.
The California Community Colleges is the largest system of higher education in the nation, composed of 72 districts and 113 colleges serving 2.1 million students per year.