As the nation honors its service veterans this month, NRECA is marking the occasion with a revamped national initiative that helps electric cooperatives recruit and retain employees with military experience.
Vets Power Us replaces Serve Our Co-ops; Serve Our Country, a coalition of 160 co-ops in 34 states established by NRECA in 2016. The new program uses a commitment-based approach to support the mission of recruiting, hiring, and honoring veterans, active military, and their spouses.
NRECA began the initiative to help co-ops address the challenges of attracting and retaining a new workforce as the industry faces waves of retirements and increasingly complex technologies. It also seeks to raise awareness of utility careers among veterans, 40% of whom come from rural communities.
“There’s a lot of alignment between the seven cooperative principles and military values,” says Desiree Dunham, NRECA’s manager of talent programs and the initiative’s point person. “Veterans bring valuable skill sets, are mission-focused, and are able to quickly learn and adapt as a result of their military service.”
In recent years,
SEMO Electric Cooperative in Missouri and
United Cooperative Services in Texas have leaned heavily on veterans to fill job openings because of retirements and turnover.
When SEMO’s broadband subsidiary needed to hire customer service reps, it looked to veterans first, says Loyd Rice, manager of fiber services. “We know they will have a wide range of experience, diverse background, and the best in ‘people skills’ that will make them a success.”
United, headquartered in Burleson, Texas, has 13 veterans on staff, with three of them coming on board in the last year. Job announcements are posted on the Texas Workforce Commission website, which advertises openings first to veterans.
“Hiring veterans is something we definitely like to do,” says Heather Wigington, the co-op’s human resources manager. “Obviously, the most qualified is going to be the one that we would hire. But we do take a second look at veterans, and it’s great to see that they’re applying and that we’re able to help.”
Co-ops that commit to participate in Vets Power Us receive NRECA materials to help them build a veteran-friendly-employer brand. In addition, NRECA will request that participating co-ops provide annual veteran hiring data to track progress.
“This will help us develop success stories and helpful practices to feature and share with members,” Dunham says.
Additional guidance will be posted to
cooperative.com in the coming months.
Veterans Power Profiles
Graviett wanted to return to his hometown, which is served by SEMO Electric, after retiring from the military in August. Before he retired, he contacted the co-op and kept in touch with Loyd Rice, manager of fiber services, until a position opened up this summer.
Why do you like working at a co-op? I left a career in the military where I considered my co-workers family; the co-op provides a very similar atmosphere of closeness and teamwork that lends to that “family” feeling. Most people join the military out of a desire to serve and have a positive impact. SEMO has a laser-like focus on the betterment of Southeast Missouri, which allows me to serve and have a positive impact on my hometown.
How is your military experience a good fit at the co-op? During military service, you learn effective communication, attention to detail, professionalism, and—most of all—teamwork. From the beginning of my military career, the importance of teamwork, whether as a member or leader, was impressed upon me. In the short time I’ve been with the co-op, I’ve noticed that teamwork absolutely makes this mission happen.
How has the co-op helped you transition to civilian life? I moved out to the country to be near my parents, and the speed and ease in which [GoSEMO] hooked up my internet and TV and the quality of those products blew me away. I’ve been able to FaceTime with the Air Force family I left behind, and my wife has stayed in touch with friends. On the professional side, I really feel like I’m part of something here, and I’ve been made to feel that way from the beginning.
Anything else you’d like to add? Several times when I’ve been wearing my co-op hat or shirt in the community, people have commented, “I’m really glad what you’re doing in the community with the fiber services.” I’ve been thanked many times for my service while wearing a uniform, but never have I dreamed that it would happen while wearing a co-op hat in a grocery store.
After working about eight years in the oil and gas industry, Pence lost his job because of the pandemic. He answered a co-op ad on the website of the Texas Workforce Commission, a popular job search site among veterans, and was hired soon after that.
Why do you like working at a co-op? It's a great career move. The culture, camaraderie, and family atmosphere at the co-op are amazing; it really reminds me of the military. It's been like that from day one.
How is your military experience a good fit at the co-op? I acquired a lot of traits enforced in the military—discipline, initiative, and leadership skills—and those are priceless. I was a flight deck director and had to direct a team of four guys, so I gained a lot confidence.
Anything else you'd like to add? Co-ops take care of their employees. Hands down, it's an amazing company to work for, from the benefits to the atmosphere to the culture.
Esparza’s military experience includes four years of active combat duty in the U.S. Marines, where he was a combat engineer in Somalia. The Air National Guard paid his way through lineman school, and he worked at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas, before retiring in 2013.
Why do you like working at a co-op? I like working at a smaller utility because I feel like I’m not just a number; everyone knows my name. The office and field workers are great, and I know everyone is doing their best.
How is your military experience a good fit at the co-op? It fits like a glove. At both, you have to work as efficiently and safely as possible and listen to the ideas and experiences of others so that we work better together.
How did the co-op help you transition to civilian life? I live near Trico and wanted to work close to home. This seemed like the perfect fit, especially since Trico was able to work around my service in the Guard. It’s been an easy transition also because there are a lot of similarities in the work I performed at both, and the sense of teamwork are the same.
Read more: Arizona Co-op Lineworker Wins ‘Hometown Hero’ Award for Helping Food Bank
cooperative.com for more information about the Vets Power Us program, or contact Desiree Dunham at
Desiree.Dunham@nreca.coop or 703-907-5995.