Empowering our Troops: AEP Career Initiatives for Veterans

Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP) is one of the largest electric utilities in the United States, delivering electricity to more than 5.3 million customers in 11 states. AEP has a long history of community engagement and has established itself as one of the top employers for military men and women.

As a leading utility, AEP partners with veterans’ organizations and job programs, provides special benefits to veteran employees, and supports veteran employees and their families through mentoring and recognition programs.

Recently, PennEnergy was invited to learn more about AEP’s veterans’ initiatives and given the opportunity to engage Scott Smith, AEP Senior Vice President for Transmission Strategy and Business Operations.

A former U.S. Army captain and combat engineer, Smith serves as an executive sponsor for AEP’s Military Veteran employee resource group. Smith collaborated with PennEnergy content director, Dorothy Davis, to offer greater insight into AEP’s veterans’ initiatives and how they benefit our military heroes, the energy industry, and the communities they serve.

PennEnergy (PE): What percentage of AEP’s current workforce is represented by veterans?

Scott Smith (Smith): Veterans compose 10 percent of AEP’s workforce, with 1,770 military veterans working throughout our 11-state service territory.

PE: When did AEP’s veteran outreach initiatives begin and what prompted them?

Smith: Though AEP has a long history of supporting military veterans, it became even more pertinent in recent years as we increasingly realized that the skills military veterans could bring to the workplace closely match the skills we are seeking for new employees. Many veterans have the job-related training we need to operate equipment and to perform other technical functions, along with the personal attributes we value, including leadership skills, flexibility, adaptability, dedication and teamwork. We also have recognized the significance of building a skilled workforce pipeline that will help us meet the future needs of our ever-evolving industry. With this in mind, we have placed increasing attention on our military recruiting efforts as well as on our company pay and benefits policies that support Reservists and National Guard members who are called into active duty.

PE: What programs does AEP have in place for helping to recruit and transition veterans into civilian energy careers?

At AEP, we have taken a number of approaches to target the veteran community and transition them to successful careers at AEP. For example, instead of filtering through thousands of resumes, which can be time consuming, we work with veterans’ organizations and national and state jobs programs to locate veterans who have the skill sets that match utility jobs.

This spring, AEP hosted an open house at the AEP Transmission training facility near Columbus, Ohio, for an up-close and personal view of the daily activities of linemen, station technicians, protection and control electricians and other jobs.  The event, co-sponsored with veterans groups, provided an orientation about the types of careers available at AEP. Several AEP military veterans served as mentors during the event.  AEP seeks out veterans at traditional recruiting events, too. For example, we participate in Hire Our Heroes, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce-sponsored job fair.

In addition, AEP is one of a handful of utilities that directs ex-military job applicants to an online “military occupational specialty” decoder that translates military skills, capabilities and training into civilian terms. The decoder helps veterans recognize the meaning and value that their military skills and training have in the civilian workforce.

PE: What impact has AEP’s veteran program had on the company and its service communities?

Smith: For 10 consecutive years, AEP has been ranked among the top “military friendly” employers in the country by GI Jobs Magazine. Our program has not only increased the number of veterans in our ranks, but it has helped veterans transition successfully through mentoring and company support.

I serve as an executive sponsor for our Military Veteran employee resource group, which was launched on Veterans’ Day in 2012. The group not only mentors newcomers, but it also supports employees by assisting their families while the employees are away on active duty. The resource group partners with veterans groups and sponsors events to honor veterans throughout AEP’s 11-state service territory. Ultimately, we want to show our employees and our service communities that we value the service of veterans who have fought to protect our freedoms and want to help them secure the economic prosperity, ongoing support, and respect they deserve.

PE: How does AEP envision the role of veterans in evolving energy industry?

Smith: When we look at the veteran community, we see a skilled, disciplined workforce that can help our industry succeed as we begin a period of rapid infrastructure modernization and expansion. Nationwide, utilities will need to replace an estimated 200,000 skilled Baby Boomers expected to retire in the next five years ­­– a third of the energy workforce. At the same time, utilities across the U.S. are expected to invest $50 billion to modernize electric transmission infrastructure through 2020. This estimate could surpass $100 billion if additional investments are made to enhance communications and cyber security capabilities. 

Through 2020, AEP alone plans to spend billions to build around 480 new or enhanced transmission substations and roughly 1,800 miles of new transmission lines. We plan to rebuild another 3,900 miles of transmission lines between 2013 and 2015. We also are focused on preparing ourselves for success in a competitive transmission business environment, which will require us to move quickly and finish projects on time and on budget.

As a result, targeting military veterans who are transitioning to civilian careers makes sense since their capabilities match the qualities necessary for us to succeed in a rapidly growing, competitive transmission landscape.

PE: What is ahead for AEP’s veteran initiatives?

Smith: As we seek to recruit more veterans into our ranks, we have looked at how we can best support this population of employees, particularly those who continue to serve. AEP recently announced it will make up the difference between an employee’s military pay and his or her AEP base wage when the employee is off work for required annual military training. Additionally, we are supporting industry-wide efforts to leverage the talents of the veteran community. AEP helped establish the Troops to Energy Jobs program, a product of the Center for Energy Workforce Development. The Center recently published a 54-page national model to help energy companies develop a comprehensive program for military outreach, education, recruiting and retention. Through such collaborative efforts, we are determined to help more veterans by providing a roadmap to civilian employment in the energy industry. In turn, we are ensuring that we have the skilled workforce needed to continue generating and delivering the reliable electricity that is essential to American homes, businesses and national security.

To learn more visit:  AEP – A Military Friendly Employer

For career resources in the power and petroleum sectors visit: PennEnergyJobs.com

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