Look to Vets for Skilled Personnel

Coles-Moultrie Electric Cooperative is a microcosm of what’s going on with the utility workforce: more retirees than immediate skilled workers to fill the jobs.

Coles-Moultrie CEO Kim Leftwich (foreground) says veterans can help solve the dearth of skilled personnel projected for electric co-ops. (Photo By: Alexis Matsui/NRECA)

Coles-Moultrie CEO Kim Leftwich (foreground) says veterans can help solve the dearth of skilled personnel projected for electric co-ops. (Photo By: Alexis Matsui/NRECA)

"I'm losing a third of my line force in next three to five years. How are we going to replace them?" said Kim Leftwich, president and CEO of Coles-Moultrie, which has 35 employees in Mattoon, Illinois, and serves nearly 10,000 meters.

NRECA projects that electric cooperatives nationwide will need to hire 20,000 new employees in the next three to five years due to retirements, attrition and other developments.

That's where Veterans In Energy and NRECA's Serve Our Co-ops; Serve Our Country become vital. These programs advocate hiring skilled, dedicated former military in recognition of pending openings in the power sector.

"We're all experiencing skilled personnel needs," said Leftwich. "Vets and veterans' spouses are a large part of the solution. Both are highly skilled groups that ought to match our jobs."

He knows firsthand. Leftwich was a 25-year Air Force veteran when he entered the utility sector decades ago at an investor-owned company. He took the helm of Coles-Moultrie in 2015.

Leftwich shared his insights at the Veterans in Energy Forum at NRECA's Arlington, Virginia, headquarters Oct. 6.

"When we think of hiring a vet, we oftentimes think of entry-level roles," but co-ops should consider veterans, many with skills in network analysis, logistics and IT, for mid-level jobs as the electric power sector evolves, he told the gathering of utility industry representatives.

"Technology is the answer, and it's going to require the skills we don't have here today," said Leftwich.

More than 40 percent of military recruits come from rural America, he noted, plus veterans would thrive in the family atmosphere of a co-op based on principles that include training, cooperation and concern for community.

"Do we not want to bring them home to good jobs?" Leftwich said. "We've got to find a way, to give them the way to return to rural areas."

NRECA member co-ops have hired 30 veterans since 2016 through its Serve Our Co-ops; Serve Our Country initiative. NRECA also is a founding sponsor of Veterans in Energy, a national leadership organization to provide transition, retention and professional development support to the growing population of veterans entering the energy field. 

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