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Mission Clean Energy: Transitioning Military Talent into the Solar Workforce

Jun 7, 2022

The transition race to clean energy is on. With this marathon is an urgent call to train and hire unprecedented numbers of new recruits. At the same time, thousands of military personnel transition to the private sector every year. How can companies in the industry do a better job of successfully recruiting veterans and reservists into the many needed IT, cybersecurity, engineering, installation, and O&M jobs? And how can military talent successfully transition to the private sector? In episode 7 of Power Players by Origis, Rear Admiral Ted LeClair joins Origis Services Managing Director Michael Eyman to discuss how private companies and military talent can successfully close the talent gap.

MEET THE PLAYERS

Rear Admiral Ted LeClair is the cofounder of Texas-based wealth management firm, 994 Group, and an accomplished U.S. Navy leader with more than 25 years of experience. LeClair has commanded forces five times, completed three tours of duty to the Middle East in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom & Southern Watch. He also holds a BA from Villanova University, an MPA from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and a Master’s in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College.

With more than 20 years of leadership and operations experience, Michael Eyman is leading the team responsible for the Origis Services’ rapidly growing solar and energy storage portfolio. With experience in both the U.S. Navy and across the private sector, he knows firsthand the challenges and rewards of transitioning into the private sector.

INTRODUCTION

Having worked in both military and private organizations, Rear Adm LeClair and Eyman know what a valuable source of talent the military can be. Whether reservists or active duty, servicemen and -women bring diverse experiences and a commitment to core values that greatly benefit industries such as renewable energy. Despite this promise, transitioning into the private sector can be challenging for even the most accomplished leader. As LeClair remembers during his transitioning years at Harvard, “I thought of my transition that I was going through then as learning a new language. And anybody that’s tried to learn a foreign language, they just know how difficult it is. And the reason I say that it’s because each organization—whether it’s the solar power industry, just the energy industry in general, the U.S. Navy—it has a language of its own. It has its own acronyms, its conferences, key leaders, it has, you know, Rolodexes, just a whole world that you operate in, and you have to become part of that. And if you haven’t, then you really need to.”

During their Power Players discussion, LeClair and Eyman shared several suggestions for active duty and reservist talent looking to work in the private sector as well as human resources tips for companies looking to hire great military talent.

MAKE YOUR CAREER TRANSITION A SEPARATE MISSION

Michael Eyman brings up a great insight about how servicepeople work: “Military people tend to have their personal identity really tied up in their professional identity, right? I would say in the real world, people have more separation, generally.” For private companies, this mentality is an opportunity to build great mission-committed teams. As LeClair observed: “It’s very difficult to replace the camaraderie that we have in the military. . . . I think it’s really important for companies to recognize that that’s something the military folks are going to want to tap into. They want to do after-work social events, they want to do, you know, group charitable events on Saturdays. It’s not, you know, ‘Oh, I have to go because work asks me to go.’ No, they do it because they really do love to bond, and they love to be with their fellow employees. And it’s more than just a place to go to work. They’re really teammates.”

For military folks, however, this full commitment can hold them back if there isn’t enough space to adequately prepare for transitioning out. LeClair and Eyman both emphasized this separation as crucial, whether it’s setting aside weekly time and resources for education and networking or using part of leave time for interviews and other in-person recruiting activities. As LeClair noticed, “Particularly folks I know that are either other admirals, FOGOS (flag or general officers), or senior colonels and captains, there’s something about, ‘Oh, I’m going to run through the finish line.’ And then all of a sudden, they’re just wiped out at the end and that’s the wrong answer.” Grabbing an hour here and there to answer emails and check in with people, creating a LinkedIn account, sending thank-you notes, and collecting business cards are crucial activities that can be done above board and without violating oaths. Although it might feel uncomfortable, making the transition process a mission separate from duties will create a foundation for a more successful entry into the private sector. When should this separation happen? Sooner than you might think.

TWO YEARS IS NOT TOO EARLY TO START PREPARING — AND GETTING HELP

“The big one is don’t wait. If you’re two years within retirement or maybe in a year-and-a-half, it’s not too soon to start,” advises LeClair. “I had another friend who ended up in leadership with a professional sports team. That took him almost two-and-a-half years, and he met those people while he was on active duty.” Transitioning into the private sector is a marathon, not a sprint, and requires persistent organized hustle above and beyond submitting resumes. For people used to trusting and following military processes, recruiting outside the HR structure is a new approach. As LeClair encourages “You gotta work it. You gotta drive it. You know, you gotta own it. I think most military folks get that, but I think they’re intimidated a little, so they get nervous.”

Even Michael Eyman remembers his initial struggle to the private sector: “I tried to get into this industry for some time. And my resume just kept bouncing off the companies. . . . Well, and a lot of the reason why my resume bounced off was because I didn’t even know how to say things in a way that the people reading it would understand. I’ll never forget a conversation I had. I spent a little time in the software gaming industry. And I was talking to a CEO of a gaming company, and he had my resume, and he said, ‘First, Mike,’ he said, ‘this is the coolest resume I’ve ever seen. You’ve done some awesome stuff. . . Second, I have no idea what to do with this.’” Getting feedback and help early is a great way to improve your recruiting odds, whether that involves informal coffee chats or hiring a career professional to help adapt resumes and portfolios to fit a new industry.

Renewable energy companies should also embrace going above and beyond standard recruiting channels to find great talent. LeClair’s big advice: “everybody in your organization should be a recruiter.” While it may seem like a lot of money to provide referral bonuses, “it’s really monkey change if you bring in amazing people.” Formal recruiting may structure the process, but true connections happen outside the career website. And when you get that opportunity to connect, it’s better to know exactly what you want.

USE MILITARY EXPERIENCE TO GUIDE — BUT NOT LIMIT! — YOUR GOALS

“You’ve got to get your A-game on and figure out some of the basic things because it is hard. What industry do you want to be in? Where do you want to live? How much travel are you willing to do? You know, what are your ambitions of that industry?” LeClair asks. Being specific about the type of company and job you want will help others help you, but also don’t let your military experience limit your goals. “Too many military people, especially the folks who are retiring, they have kind of put a view on where they fit into the program, whether it’s the government service levels (GS 13, 14, 15) or ranks (lieutenant commander, commander, captain, or major lieutenant colonel, colonel) that, ‘Well, I’m only a lieutenant colonel, that’s all I’m going to be.’ And I’m like, whoa, don’t limit yourself like that. I’ve known guys that were department heads on a ship—that’s like a middle-level management job—and ended up being CEO of a Fortune 500 because they didn’t put that limitation on who they were.”

Understanding yourself and your careers goals not only help provide a clear direction; it also helps recruiting companies take a chance on a reservist candidate they might otherwise perceive as risky. LeClair addresses this head on: “Let’s just call it what it is. The risk is what? You know, Ted or Mike are going to get deployed to wherever. . . But what’s the upside? The upside to me is tremendous because you’re going to get someone who’s a trained leader. I have a deep belief in leadership, that people aren’t born leaders. You can learn to be a leader.” To Eyman and LeClair, the chance of deployment is a worthy risk to take for such qualified leadership.

CONCLUSION

Even when someone leaves active-duty service, they bring unique experiences and core values with them. As Michael Eyman remarked regarding his own transition: “I still wanted a mission. I still wanted something that I could wake up every day and care about. And I think probably a lot of military people feel that way.” For Eyman, the growing renewable energy industry and its impact potential on the country was a perfect fit. For LeClair, it was the financial services market. It’s not easy, but with Eyman and LeClair’s advice, anyone transitioning into the private sector can find where they’re meant to be.

Three Takeaways for Transitioning Military Talent:

  1. Make Your Career Transition a Separate Mission
  2. Two Years Is Not Too Early to Start Preparing—And Getting Help
  3. Use Military Experience to Guide—But Not Limit! —Your Goals

Thank you, Rear Admiral Ted LeClair and Power Players host Michael Eyman, for insights and advice that is sure to help transitioning servicemembers move into renewable energy careers and private companies benefit from great military talent.

RESOURCE LINKS

Origis Services Careers
https://origisservices.com/careers/

Origis Energy Careers
https://origisenergy.com/about-us/our-company/careers/

IREC
-Solar Ready Vets Network
https://irecusa.org/programs/solar-ready-vets/for-service-members-and-veterans/

-Recruiting and Retaining Military Talent
https://irecusa.org/programs/solar-ready-vets/recruiting-and-retaining-military-talent/

NABCEP
-Veterans Pathways
https://www.nabcep.org/veteran/

Hiring Our Heroes
-Solar Industry Fellowships
https://www.hiringourheroes.org/career-services/fellowships/industry-focus/solar/

U.S. Department of Energy
-Solar Ready Vets
https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/solar-ready-vetsr-pilot-program

-DOE Scholars Program –
https://orise.orau.gov/doescholars/

-Veterans & Military Spouses Careers
https://www.energy.gov/careers/veterans-military-spouses

Center for Energy Workforce Development
-Troops to Energy Jobs (Program includes Military Spouses)
https://www.troopstoenergyjobs.com

Active-Duty Military Branch Specific – Credentialing Opportunities On-Line (COOL)
-Photovoltaic Installer – Level I (PVl1)
https://www.cool.osd.mil/uscg/search/CERT_PVI-LVL16399.htm
https://www.cool.osd.mil/army/search/CERT_PVA9245.htm
https://www.cool.osd.mil/usn/search/CERT_PVI-LVL16399.htm

-Photovoltaic Associate (PV Associate)
https://www.cool.osd.mil/usmc/search/CERT_PVA9245.htm
https://afvec.us.af.mil/afvec/af-cool/credential/9245/true

-PV Installation Professional
https://afvec.us.af.mil/afvec/af-cool/credential/4343/true

-PV Technical Sales Certification
https://afvec.us.af.mil/afvec/af-cool/credential/5324/false

 

 

 

 

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