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Solid co-op jobs for veterans

Kim Leftwich, President and CEO of Coles Moultrie Electric Cooperative recruited an excellent squad of volunteers to help kick start a new electric co-op program to hire veterans in Illinois. The first meeting was held at the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives headquarters in Springfield, Ill. on January 21.The team included (1-r) Kay Wickenhauser, Director of Human Resources for Com Belt Energy; Shelia Cutright, Veterans Employment Representative with the Illinois Department of Employment Security; Ed VanHoose, President/CEO of Clay Electric Cooperative; Michelle Rostom, Veteran Initiative Program Director for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association; Kim Leftwich, President and CEO of Coles-Moultrie Electric Cooperative; Eric Asmussen, Regional Veterans’ Employment Coordinator for the U.S. Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Service; Mary Zitek, Safety and Education Services Coordinator for the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives; Denne Smith, Manager of Human Resources for Wabash Valley Power and Saida Elkiram, Veteran Hiring Representative with NRECA. Team members not pictured are Stan Zielinski, Area Illinois Chair for the Employer Support of The Guard and Reserve; John Freitag, Vice President of Operations for the AIEC and John Lowrey, Vice President of Communications for the AIEC.For more information go to

As an estimated 14,400 electric co-op jobs will be opening up over the next five years co-op leaders are being encouraged to fill those openings with veterans. Electric cooperatives have joined with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Veteran Hiring Initiative and others advocating and assisting with hiring veterans to fill co-op job vacancies to match those jobs with veterans. 

Serve our Co-ops; Serve our Country is a nationwide electric cooperative initiative to honor and hire veterans, military service members and their spouses. The program is focusing on educating and training electric co-ops to implement nationally recognized leading practices in attracting, hiring, onboarding and retaining veterans. Co-ops from 47 states are forming a national coalition with the shared goal of employing veterans. The second focus area of this program is to care for the veteran communities that live in suburban and rural areas. Co-ops are engaging with local initiatives to enhance veterans’ integration within their communities and promote available resources to veterans. 

“We want to expand our co-op pipeline with great talent to fill the many jobs that will be opening up,” says Michelle Rostom, Veteran Initiative Program Director for the National Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives. “NRECA and its co-op partners will follow nationally recognized best practices and guidelines for hiring and retaining skilled veterans. In addition to the diverse technical talents and trainability our veterans bring to co-ops, there are many parallels between military culture and electric cooperative culture, including mission, teamwork, and commitment to community,” she says. 

Kim Leftwich is a retired Lt. Colonel of the United States Air Force and has significant experience in the utility industry. He took the helm of Coles-Moultrie Electric Cooperative last year and is excited for the chance to “open the door” for veterans seeking new careers. He volunteered to serve on an executive advisory committee for the new initiative to hire veterans, and is also leading the effort here in Illinois. 

Electric co-ops, he says, offer “solid jobs with great pay and great benefits and great opportunity to advance,” all job requirements that are top of mind to those just leaving the military, he says. 

The military drawdowns are increasing with around 200,000 service members transitioning out of the military each year. Leftwich says many of those veterans are from and want to return to rural areas. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the Nation’s 21.2 million veterans, nearly 40 percent are from rural America. “We believe the principles and culture of electric cooperatives serving rural America match the service character of those who have served our country,” says Leftwich.