Dominion’s Thomas Farrell: The path from military to energy jobs

July 3, 2016
From The Virginia Pilot
July 3, 2016

THE “4TH” SAYS it all. We know what that means. We celebrate our nation, patriots past and generations of sacrifice. We acknowledge all it took to get our nation this far. We feel proud. We have our hearts in the right place.

Now if we can just get our heads there. We need to sharpen our understanding of those engaged in the fight for freedom today. Our nation needs different, more effective approaches to helping military veterans and their families.

I was born on an Army post and grew up in an Army family. My grandfather served with the 1st Division in World War I and worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II. My uncle was killed in Italy. My father served in Vietnam. I saw first-hand both the pride in national service and the toll that service extracts from individuals and families.

That toll runs deep at the moment. Some 2.7 million service members have been sent to the Middle East in the fighting that began 15 years ago.

Today’s Army has provided the bulk of U.S. troops to Iraq and Afghanistan and has performed splendidly. So have the other service branches.

I marvel at how well these men and women carry on under these circumstances. I marvel equally at the strength shown by their families. I know that many of the challenges they face must be addressed on a national level — including more opportunities to transition successfully to civilian life, which hundreds of thousands of active-duty personnel will be doing annually over the years to come.

That is why during my tenure as chairman of the Edison Electric Institute in 2011-12, I made hiring veterans in the energy industry my top priority and helped start the Troops to Energy Jobs program.

The need is mutual. Veterans need jobs, especially those between the ages of 18-44. And gas and electric utilities need to replace about one-third of the industry’s total workforce — many of whom are eligible to retire.

In 2011, Dominion helped launch the Troops to Energy Jobs pilot program in partnership with five other electric utilities, labor unions and the Center for Energy Workforce Development. The program’s purpose was to create a process of outreach, recruiting, education and training for veterans transitioning into civilian careers.

 Based on insights gained from that pilot, the founding partners created a template for utilities nationwide to use in recruiting and training former members of the military. In effect, what the partners did was create a bridge to employment between military veterans and the nation’s utility industry.

Today, the Troops to Energy partnership includes the U.S. departments of Defense, Labor and Energy, as well as equivalent state agencies and community colleges — the gateway to workforce readiness in Virginia and elsewhere. Private educational companies are also involved.

Credentials represent the currency of technical work. Troops to Energy Jobs has taken full advantage of the post-9/11 GI Bill. All in-house training has been enhanced.

Dominion and others have also built flexibility into the process by allowing veterans to learn a trade or skill through participation in apprenticeship or on-the-job training, rather than traditional classroom attendance. We have found ways to accelerate the time to earn credentials and ensure veterans get full credit for applicable military training.

Beyond training, we are working to make our work culture more veteran-friendly, with formal mentoring programs and veterans’ networking and affinity groups.

Hiring veterans is the right thing to do. It is also a strong business proposition.

At Dominion, we have hired about 700 veterans since 2011 — about 20 percent of all new hires. Our company now employs more than 1,600 veterans — about 12 percent of the total workforce.

Although the program is working as intended, there is more we can — and must — do. We must keep listening and learning as we go, never forgetting the sacrifices our veterans and their families have made for freedom.

Dominion and other employers must strive to do better by those Americans who volunteered to defend our country at profound risk and personal sacrifice. We must help our returning warriors trade their combat helmets for hardhats and move from the front lines to the power lines and pipelines that energize America.

Thomas F. Farrell II

is chairman,

president and CEO of Dominion Resources Inc.