Vets possess skills to fill utility workforce openings

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

“I’m losing a third of my line force in the 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 and serves nearly 10,000 meters.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (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. “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.”

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

“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, IT, for mid-level jobs as the electric power sector evolves, Leftwich told a gathering of utility industry representatives.

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

Source: Cathy Cash, NRECA