May 19, 2017 In The News

OP-ED: Partnering to deliver America’s energy future

As we recognize Infrastructure Week in Washington and in the states, America’s electric companies, organized labor, and policymakers join together to encourage continued investments in a smarter energy infrastructure and the workforce that supports it.

The electric power industry underpins all sectors of the economy. For example, EEI’s member companies contribute $880 billion—or 5 percent—to America’s total GDP, and invest more than $100 billion each year to build smarter energy infrastructure and to transition to even cleaner generation sources.

Smarter energy infrastructure is part of a broader transformation to benefit customers. It helps keep energy affordable for customers; it helps strengthen the energy grid’s resiliency against cyber and physical security threats, as well as natural disasters; it ensures that energy can get where it is needed, when it is needed; and it enables electric companies to provide the energy solutions that customers want.

Of course, critical to building smarter energy infrastructure is the workforce needed to build it. As a whole, the electric power industry supports more than 7 million jobs. And, the industry generates many of the best jobs in America—in traditional and emerging areas. Many of the individuals who build infrastructure projects are members of organized labor. And, many of those who support infrastructure projects are policymakers who promote job growth.

Together, we are advocating for long-term solutions to address the ongoing need for a skilled, diverse workforce now and in the future. For example, apprenticeship programs supply qualified workers to accomplish capital-intensive projects. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), in partnership with the National Electrical Contractors Association, sponsor apprenticeships across the United States through the electrical training ALLIANCE, spending roughly $180 million a year training the organized electrical construction workforce.

Let’s ensure that the energy industry’s workforce has continuous access to training to support the ongoing investment in the energy grid and its advanced, high-tech infrastructure projects. Work is already being done to enhance workforce diversity and to ensure that the energy industry’s workforce reflects the communities that it serves. Partnerships between the energy industry, the Center for Energy Workforce Development, organized labor, policymakers and community colleges and universities across the country have allowed for the creation of a number of workforce development programs to meet these goals.

We all agree that reaching out to our nation’s veterans and students is critical to developing the skilled energy workforce we need to build smarter energy infrastructure and to lead the incredible transformation taking place in the electric power industry.

The energy industry’s Troops to Energy Jobs program and the Utility Industry Workforce Initiative, a public-private partnership between industry and the federal government, help to accelerate the training and the employability of veterans seeking positions in energy companies. The Veterans Electrical Entry Program and Helmets to Hardhats are two similar initiatives sponsored by organized labor. Since their inception, these nonprofit programs have assisted in nearly 20,000 successful transitions for veterans.

Another solution that would help is the bipartisan, industry- and labor-supported 21st Century Energy Workforce Act, which directs the Department of Energy to incentivize training for skilled energy industry jobs. This would bolster workforce development programs and would create new pathways for students to enter into an industry that powers our communities and drives our economy.

Additionally, the legislation calls for the establishment of a competitive grant that would enable programs with qualified job-training services at universities, community colleges, and registered apprenticeship programs to identify veterans and active-duty service members transitioning out of the military for careers in the energy sector, as well as offering mentorship programs for elementary and high school students.

We need effective workforce development solutions to achieve our shared goal of delivering reliable, affordable, secure, and increasingly clean energy to customers—as we work together to grow our workforce and economy, and to plan for America’s energy future.

Norcross represents New Jersey’s First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

McKinley represents West Virginia’s First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Tom Kuhn is President of the Edison Electric Institute, the association of investor-owned electric companies whose members generate and distribute approximately three-quarters of the nation’s electricity and serve nearly 70 percent of all electricity customers.

Lonnie Stephenson is international president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), which represents approximately 750,000 active members and retirees who work in a wide variety of fields