As we pause to observe Veterans Day this year -- with more and more military men and women entering civilian careers and America on the cusp of an energy revolution -- we have an occasion to talk about recruiting veterans into the clean energy economy.
As a veteran with service in Afghanistan and Iraq, I don’t believe we should look at this in terms of what we can do for veterans. Instead, it should be seen as an opportunity to recruit veterans, with their unique skills and abilities, into the clean energy economy in order to move it forward.
Some notable events of the last year are an exciting indication of the opportunities ahead. President Obama announced the expansion of the Solar Ready Vets pilot program in April, for example. And as part of the First Lady’s Joining Forces Initiative, a number of clean energy organizations and companies made public commitments to hire veterans.
In general, there is a difference between passive and active forms of talent recruiting, and this applies to veteran recruiting as well.
To highlight active and practical tools to hire veterans, I’ve outlined some thoughts below. They build on a talk I gave in September at Solar Power International titled “Operationalizing 50,000 by 2020: U.S. Military Veterans Working in the Solar Industry.”
Consider it a starting checklist for your organization. Take the parts that fit well for your organization and leave behind the areas that do not.
Talk about your mission
Veterans still appreciate, and even seek, a worthwhile mission once they take off the uniform. In fact, most folks want a sense of purpose and value in the work they do. Pursuing a career in an industry and a company that has a purpose and mission that resonates with them is valuable -- and the clean energy industry has that mission.
“Let me tell you about renewable energy and energy resilience and all the good work we do” is a bit different than pitching “we have solar installer openings.”
Highlighting the clean energy mission and then your company mission gives some context to the discussion. Then talk about the day-to-day position that is appropriate for the individual’s management and leadership experience. Overall, consider talking about the bigger mission of clean energy that veterans can put their efforts behind, and inspire them to be a part of the change.
Leverage veterans hiring fairs
There are a number of hiring fairs that focus on the transitioning service member (within six months of leaving the military) and veteran communities. Some view job fairs as a blunt tool, as they can often be more like job speed-dating with multiple companies and industries present.
But hiring fairs are a great way to develop an initial connection and foster future leads. There are a number of fairs including Hiring Our Heroes facilitated by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Hire Heroes USA, and the Hiring Heroes Program run by the Department of Defense. Keep an active eye on the calendar and schedule time to set up a booth at the hiring fairs that fit your organization.
Get your paid summer internship going
A number of companies have remarked to me that they have a hard time finding veterans. I often ask them if they are looking at community colleges, undergraduate and graduate programs.
Why? Because the Post-9/11 GI Bill is a fantastic educational investment by the United States, and the number of individuals using their GI Bill benefits has doubled in the last six years. So veterans are on campus, and a paid summer internship program bridges the gap from the classroom to your organization’s talent needs.
It does take some effort, but I was able to work with our Federal Energy Management Program to create a veteran internship program that worked for them -- and you can create an internship in your organization too.
Cross-implement with your online tools and social media platforms
Most organizations have a strategy for what their online presence looks like, and what platforms they leverage their presence on. It's important to use these online tools and social media platforms to amplify recruiting messages to veterans.
Do a quick inventory of what your organization is putting out online, and determine if your veteran recruiting effort should be tied in more closely to existing online efforts.
Lean in to Solar Ready Vets
Solar Ready Vets is a great opportunity to recruit trained and skilled transitioning service members right when they leave the service. Participants tackle more than four weeks of solar training on or near different military installations throughout the country.
The program has completed its pilot period and is prepared to expand significantly in 2016. Savvy companies will lean in to Solar Ready Vets to bring in talented and trained individuals, but also to decrease their talent acquisition costs and internal training costs. As the Department of Energy intends to award a national coordinator in the new year, the opportunity for the private sector to engage with Solar Ready Vets will continue to grow.
Walk the talk in your company
Every veteran in your company that you retain is one more that you won’t need to recruit. But there is a difference between being a veteran in a company (and one specifically recruited at that), and identifying as a member of a collective veteran community within an organization.
In the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, we started a Veterans Coffee 'n' Connect meeting that met for coffee every four to six weeks. Nothing exotic, just coffee. After 16 months, we have grown a small coffee meeting to include other offices in the Department of Energy, and are submitting our charter to become an official employee resource group.
Coffee may not work for your organization’s battle rhythm. Instead, it might be a softball team, a lunch meeting, or a happy hour. If you’re a veteran in a clean energy company, take the lead in convening your peers -- no one else will do it for you, nor should you expect them to. Being consistent over the course of the year is more important than hitting a home run with any single event.
The six practical areas above offer a guide for your organization, big or small, to recruit veterans into your company. While simple, they are often not easy to execute consistently. Ultimately, recruiting veterans into your clean energy company will take both organizational determination and individual effort.
Your organization, and your bottom line, will be better for it.
Michael Baskin is a SunShot Initiative Fellow in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in the Department of Energy. Michael is a 2002 West Point graduate and a former U.S. Army infantry officer with service in Afghanistan and Iraq, and is currently a doctoral candidate at The Fletcher School at Tufts University. He staffed a clean energy sector commitment to the First Lady’s Joining Forces Initiative from January to April 2015 and helped catalyze the Solar Ready Vets program.