As I sit here in my living room listening to the ice tap dance on my roof, I can’t help but think what a crazy winter it has been. Here in Northeast PA, we are coming off one of our coldest Januaries in years. My friends in New England are licking their wounds coming off a storm that dumped as much as 30 inches of snow in some parts. And down south and in the Midwest, they are dealing with severe ice and snowstorms. But I 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 let us not 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 techs to CSRs, no job position is immune. Couple that with the “Great Resignation” that is taking effect in the American workforce, and our hill only becomes a steeper climb.
For the past 8 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 protecting our freedom. They have braved the elements of erratic weather (and 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, team player. That is why in 2016, Gerry Brien and I founded Vets2Techs, a program that finds underemployed and unemployed veterans careers in our industry. Since our inception, we have helped find jobs for 700 veterans in our industry.
We have amazing career opportunities to provide my fellow service members and these hires a great start, but there’s still so much more we can do. Even being a green beret, I can still remember the trepidation I experienced when deciding to join this industry—my family’s industry—and 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 continue to 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.
We are proud of the progress that we have made and look forward to continuing that success. After attending industry meetings, I learned we are not the only ones trying to address the workforce development challenge. Back 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 schools: trade schools, CDL schools, and community colleges. Many folks 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,” Michelle Wilson shares. “Additionally, students can learn about the various applications in which propane can be used.”
After learning about each other’s programs, we noticed two things: we were both working toward the same thing, yet our approach and channels were quite different. We quickly realized that collectively we could set an industry standard for workforce development. From there we created a partnership between our two programs. Thus far, with the help of PERC funding, we have rolled this partnership out in 7 states: AL, IL, OH, NY, LA, MD, and VA. The impact is already being felt. Derek Dalling, executive director of the Ohio Propane Gas Association, praises “When we completed our initial workforce recruitment project, we know 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!”
Currently, we are in the process of rolling this 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 very magazine for giving us a platform to share the stories of these wonderful individuals.