While the slow U.S. job market has hit the veteran community hard, many of the 2.5 million Americans who have gone to war in Iraq and Afghanistan have found opportunity in one of America's fastest growing industries: natural gas.
Josh Cannon served three tours of duty in Iraq and returned to the United States in the depth of the recession. While most companies were shedding jobs, the natural gas industry was growing.
"I got out [of the military] in 2009, and job prospects were slim to none," Cannon said. "After a year of searching for work, I found a job here in the gas industry."
Natural gas is one of few bright spots for the U.S. economy. Thanks to new technologies and recent discoveries of vast natural gas reserves, many regions in the U.S. have been able to weather the recession better, putting Americans like Mr. Cannon back to work and promoting regional economic growth.
In particular, the industry has focused on helping create opportunities for returning veterans. Transitioning from the armed forces to civilian work is no easy task for many servicemen and women, but the natural gas industry actively recruits veterans, who possess diverse skill sets that are applicable and valuable to the energy sector.
"I definitely see this job as a career," said Cannon. "It's more money than I've ever seen in my life."
Apache Corporation, a major natural gas producer in the U.S., recently launched an initiative designed to bring veterans into its workforce. Representatives visited local colleges and universities in addition to recruiting at military bases near where the company operates. Chesapeake Energy also currently employs more than 1,000 veterans.
The natural gas industry has also funded new job programs that help to train the workforce, easing the transition for veterans and others pursuing work in the energy industry.
This fall, Pittsburgh Technical Institute (PTI) is opening a $3.5 million Energy Technology Center that will enhance the school's job training programs. PTI has collaborated with energy companies to ensure that its curriculum directly translates into gas industry jobs for its students. Local programs such as PTI's have helped ensure that Pennsylvanians are benefiting from abundant natural gas: 70% of the new natural gas jobs in the region are filled by state residents.
Similar academic and industry partnerships are emerging around the country. Beginning in 2012, ExxonMobil and GE provided funding for new training programs at the Colorado School of Mines and two other universities. With this new consortium, the school's Unconventional Natural Gas and Oil Institute (UNGI) has advanced its mission by training engineers and applied scientists in the latest technologies used to responsibly develop natural gas.
Innovative technologies and discoveries of new natural gas supply will continue to create well-paying, steady jobs. With a workforce of veterans in place, the industry will continue to provide abundant, affordable natural gas that can power America's economic recovery.