Editor's Note: This article wraps up our Workforce Development series centering on the role United States military veterans serve in our industry’s workforce. In our February 2022 issue, Jesse Lord spoke with James Devens, former United States Army captain and current vice president of operations at Superior Plus Propane, about navigating acquisitions and employee retention. Devens emphasized the importance of reassuring employees about the work environment they already know when onboarding them during an acquisition. Click here to read the full series.
What a crazy winter it has been. Here in northeast Pennsylvania, we are coming off one of our coldest winters in years. Friends in New England are licking their wounds after a storm that dumped as much as 30 inches of snow in some areas. And down south and in the Midwest, they are dealing with severe ice and snowstorms. But we know better than to complain about the weather in this industry, especially when there is much more to complain about.
Our industry is facing a myriad of issues: electrification, government mandates and — lest we forget — an ongoing pandemic. Another problem that continues to plague our industry is workforce development. The shortage of personnel is crippling our industry. From drivers to technicians to customer service representatives, no job position is immune. Couple that with the Great Resignation that is currently taking effect in the American workforce, and our hill only becomes a steeper climb.
For the past nine months, our series “Fueling the Workforce” has profiled veterans who once served our country and now serve our industry. These individuals bring the same passion and dedication to delivering us comfort as they did to protecting our freedom. They have braved the elements of erratic weather (and, more recently, erratic viruses) to ensure our safety and comfort. They have fit into the “essential worker” role nicely.
These veterans possess all the attributes a propane company looks for in an employee: hardworking, loyal and a team player. That is why in 2016, Gerry Brien and I founded Vets2Techs, a program that finds careers in our industry for unemployed veterans. Since its inception, we have helped find jobs for 700 veterans in our industry.
We have amazing career opportunities to provide service members, and these hires are a great start, but there’s still so much more we can do as an industry. Even as a Green Beret, I can still remember the trepidation I experienced when deciding to join my family’s industry. Looking back, I realize that the same values that drew me to serve my country are upheld here. Focusing on educating and promoting our industry’s opportunities, culture and values throughout the veteran community will guarantee its future is secure.
Additionally, we train the propane companies in understanding the benefits that are available to these veterans through various military programs. These programs can save companies thousands of dollars. In doing so, we are creating a veteran-friendly environment and, thus, a magnet for veterans to join our industry’s workforce.
While attending industry meetings, I learned we are not the only ones trying to address the workforce development challenge. In 2019, I was approached by Michelle Wilson of GeneratioNext Propane Pros. GeneratioNext Propane Pros takes a different approach. This program focuses on attracting the next generation to our workforce through trade schools, commerical driver’s license (CDL) schools and community colleges. Many people are ready to start a career.
“This program gives the students an opportunity to learn about what a career in the propane industry looks like,” Wilson shared. “Additionally, students can learn about the various applications in which propane can be used.”
After learning about each other’s programs, we realized two things: We were both working toward the same thing, yet our approaches and channels were quite different. We quickly realized that collectively we could set an industry standard for workforce development. From there we developed a partnership between our two programs.
With the help of funding from the Propane Education & Research Council, we have rolled this partnership out in seven states: Alabama, Illinois, Ohio, New York, Louisiana, Maryland and Virginia. The impact is already being felt.
Derek Dalling, executive director of the Ohio Propane Gas Association, said, “When we completed our initial workforce recruitment project, we knew we did well in our outreach to military veterans and bases with several dozen applicants. However, we were impressed with the numbers we heard GeneratioNext Propane Pros and Vets2Techs achieved in other areas, and the Ohio Propane Gas Association decided to give them an opportunity to do the same in Ohio. In the first few, short months, they have already generated over 100 applicants, the majority of whom have a CDL already.”
We are in the process of rolling this partnership out in a handful of other states. We know there is still a long way to go, but we are proud to have put a significant dent in the workforce development issue and look forward to seeing what happens next.
As this series comes to a close, I would be remiss not to thank some folks. I want to thank all the contributors and veterans who allowed us to tell their stories. I especially want to thank Cetane Associates and Consumer Focus Marketing for providing their services and sponsoring this series. Lastly, I would like to thank this magazine for giving us a platform to share these stories about these wonderful individuals.