Without Strong Recruitment of Veterans…

May 18, 2017

Without Strong Recruitment of Veterans, Clean Energy Companies Miss Out on a Competitive Advantage

Without Strong Recruitment of Veterans, Clean Energy Companies Miss Out on a Competitive Advantage

Photo Credit: US Air Force

Are veterans a valuable asset to companies? Research says that they are.

Are veterans a valuable asset to companies that provide renewable energy or energy efficiency products and services? The short answer is yes — for those companies that make an effort.

Veterans of the last 15 years possess a baseline understanding of energy from their military service. Many have conducted operations that cross prisms of energy security ranging from the strategic (protecting maritime sea lanes in the Persian Gulf), operational (bulk fuel resupply for say, Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan), or tactical levels (ensuring charged batteries for distributed advisor teams in Iraq). Many have also witnessed energy poverty in parts of Afghanistan and Iraq and other locations around the world. Additionally, they’re experienced with technology.

There are a number of ways to recruit and retain veterans to your energy company, including describing your mission, incorporating paid internships with student-veterans, and starting — or continuing — a veterans’ employee resource group, to name a few. All of them require an investment of leadership, resources, time and effort. Some companies such as Tesla have targeted certain jobs toward the veteran community and actively attend veteran hiring fairs.

As a community, veterans display elevated levels of entrepreneurship. As the demand for renewable energy has grown, veterans not only work in renewable energy companies, but some have created their own solar businesses, including Veteran Solar Systems in New York and Semper Solaris in Southern California.

Other veterans have created businesses in upstream renewable energy finance, including Spruce Finance and more recently Clean Capital. Another pair of veterans built RideScout, which aggregated transportation options for riders via an app. It was later acquired by Daimler and now operates as Moovel. There are other veteran-founded renewable energy companies out there, and we should expect to see continued entrepreneurship in the year ahead.

Let’s review the size and scope of the military and veterans community to understand the opportunity better: The active duty uniformed military, which includes the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, is approximately 1.3 million members, about 100,000 fewer than it was several years ago. The National Guard and Reserve, whose members work civilian jobs in addition to their part-time military duties, have about 1.1 million enrolled.

After completing their service, members of the military exit the service and become veterans. U.S. veterans today number approximately 21.4 million, half of which are now older than the age of 65. The U.S. veteran population is steadily decreasing as older veterans pass away, and because the military was several times larger during the Cold War. Today, roughly 200,000 active duty members transition out of the military each year. As they do so, some enter into the workforce and others choose to pursue education and training.

Today, over 1 million veterans are currently using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. The Post-9/11 GI Bill, passed by Congress in 2008, supports education and training in vocational programs, as well as two- and four-year colleges and universities. Our national investment in the Post-9/11 GI Bill is currently over $10 billion annually.

In 2016, respected industry trainer Solar Energy International was certified to provide solar training supported by the Post-9/11 GI Bill, as have most of the 10 organizations that provide solar training in the Solar Ready Vets program, which has trained just over 300 transitioning service members since its first pilot in early 2015. Wind tower technician company Airstreams Renewables Inc. also provides training to transitioning service members supported by the bill.

The dynamics in job growth are what provide the demand. According to The Solar Foundation’s annual jobs census, solar jobs have grown steadily for the last five years. In 2013 there were approximately 143,000 solar jobs, followed by 174,000 in 2014 and 209,000 in 2015. According to TSF, the veterans’ component of the solar industry’s job growth grew from a little over 13,000 in 2013 to just under 17,000 in 2014.

However, in 2015, when total solar industry jobs grew by over 35,000, the number of veterans flat-lined at about 17,000. This reduced the percentage of veterans as a component of the total solar industry from 9.7 percent to 8.1 percent. It is unclear what caused this plateau in the number of veterans in the solar industry from 2014 to 2015.

The 2016 TSF solar census due out in January will provide new numbers for total jobs, and reveal whether the number of veterans continues to grow again or if the plateau has continued.

The plateau is particularly noteworthy because in April 2015, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) made a commitment to the Joining Forces Initiative, led by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, to have 50,000 veterans and family members employed in the solar industry by 2020.

Other companies with renewable energy portfolios, including Invenergy and EDP Renewables (wind), Air Liquide and PDC Machines (fuel cell/hydrogen), and MWH Global (hydropower), also made commitments in the same Joining Forces campaign. Today, it is not clear how SEIA intends to operationalize its commitment to hire veterans, and what staff resources, if any, it has devoted to the task. Similarly, while SEIA made a commitment to hire veterans on behalf of the solar industry, it has done little to date to actively facilitate the sharing of best practices in veteran hiring amongst its member companies.

Ultimately, the center of gravity for recruiting and retaining veterans is within clean energy companies themselves. Those companies that experience the value-add will devote the time and effort to develop and strengthen their veteran programs. Those who do not will see the value-add go to their competition.

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Michael Baskin served as a Fellow in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) in the Department of Energy in 2014 and 2015. There he staffed a clean energy sector commitment to the Joining Forces initiative and catalyzed the Solar Ready Vets program. A former U.S. Army infantry officer with service in Afghanistan and Iraq, he is completing a doctoral program at The Fletcher School at Tufts University.