Photo credit: Veterans in Energy
The IBEW’s Utility Department Director Donnie Colston, left, joined utility company CEOs for a panel at the Veterans in Energy forum.

A lineman’s job isn’t for everyone, but it might be great for a veteran. 

IBEW member Bianca Lewis translated her Army skills into a job with utility company PECO.

“Veterans make good employees,” said Donnie Colston, IBEW Utility Department director. “Veterans understand that you need to be at work on time and follow the safety rules, and that you have a responsibility to do the job right the first time.”

The industry estimates that about one in 10 workers are veterans. The Veterans in Energy forum, held Oct. 5-7 in Arlington, Va., was part of a larger effort to increase that ratio.

Colston spoke on a panel that included CEOs from the Tennessee Valley Authority, MidAmerican Energy Co. and Coles-Moultrie Electric Cooperative, all employers with an IBEW-represented workforce.

“The better we can work with our employers to recruit more veterans, the better it will be for everyone,” Colston said. “From a journeyman lineman standpoint, who better would you want standing on a pole with you when you’re working on high-voltage energy than someone who knows how to follow the rules and doesn’t take shortcuts?”

Veterans in Energy is an outgrowth of the Utility Industry Workforce Initiative, a group that includes government agencies, industry groups like the Edison Electric Institute and the IBEW. Launched in 2016, Veterans in Energy provides career resources to veterans in the industry.

Many of the workers at the nation’s nuclear plants are veterans, Colston said, adding that Navy veterans who worked on nuclear submarines are especially well suited.

“The NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] has specific rules and regulations in place,” Colston said. “And veterans understand that if you don’t follow them, you could die.”

Much of the conference centered on establishing the best communication lines to make sure that any veteran who is interested in exploring an electrical career knows where to go.

“If I’m a veteran, you need to give me more than ‘hey we’re hiring in energy,’” Colston said. “Where do I actually apply?” said Colston.

The IBEW works with employers and initiatives like the Center for Energy Workforce Development to answer that question, Colston said. The center, part of the Utility Industry Workforce Initiative, helps veterans prepare for and apply to apprenticeships through its Troops to Energy Jobs website, which provides a list of available jobs and helps veterans transfer their military skills to those required in the industry.

Forty percent of the utility workforce is expected to turn over by 2020, Colston said. The sooner companies can recruit more veterans, the better.