Celebrating Our Veterans: Sara Hayes of ACEEE Shares Her Experiences in the U.S. Army Reserves and How that Translated to a Career in Energy- [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Interview]

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  • Nov 9, 2021

To celebrate Veterans Day this upcoming Thursday, November 11th, the Energy Central Community Team will be shining a light on the many outstanding utility professionals in our network who also spent time in the military.  This week, we'll be featuring interviews with these veterans sharing how they found their way into the industry. We will also highlight their unique perspectives of the industry and how they are influencing the utility space.  

All the interviews will be collected at this special Veterans Day 2021 topic tag.

To all the veterans in the Energy Central Community, we want to say thank you for your service and we wish you a Happy Veterans Day. 

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Sara Hayes had various jobs, including teaching outdoor school in the Pacific North West and weatherizing homes for a utility in Oregon, before joining the military as a mechanic for Chinook helicopters in the U.S. Army Reserves. She has a passion for the environment and is currently Director of Health and Environment, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a nonprofit based in Washington DC.

After her military service she left to go to law school, after which she worked on a trading desk in Wall Street, then a boutique law firm that represented hedge funds. She is particularly proud of helping draft emissions trading proposals to Congress before she moved to the ACEEE, working on programs and policies for energy efficiency.

What are the skills the military teaches you? "The training for the military – this maybe goes without saying – creates a lot of adversity for you. And so, to be able to plow through in the face of that adversity, that's something they teach you. I think that is incredibly valuable." She also feels that implementing solutions practically in the field is also part of the military mindset. "Even though the military is very structured and hierarchical, it also requires people to solve real-world problems in practice, which is very different from having a meeting in an office and deciding on a plan for someone else to carry out."

A single mom of two young children, Sara has observed a shift in the industry during the last two decades. "Twenty years ago, it was very male-dominated, and I mostly encountered engineers. Since then, there have been many new academic disciplines, environmental studies, for example, many different qualifications and training courses that apply to this sector. The field has grown tremendously in terms of gender diversity. Which is a positive step forward."

How would she advise veterans looking to make a career in utilities? "I learned from hiring [staff], there's a whole bunch of experiences in the military that can be valuable and applicable and something that employers want to know about, but many employers don't have the knowledge to recognize how those skills translate in the civilian world. Military people need to figure out how to describe the skill set they have, how it applies to what the employer wants and connect those dots. Because outside of the military, employers often can't recognize how valuable these skills are." Essentially, veterans need to understand how their skills can be reapplied to civilian life so they can explain how these abilities will benefit a utility employer.

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Nov 10, 2021

Sara, First thanks for your service.  Second, I love how you talk about translating skills from the military into civilian jobs.  My brother, who currently works for the Airforce, is in the process of doing just that - and it is tough.  I think you have to look beyond the direct requirements that a company is looking for and focus on the skills sets that apply to these requirements - if that makes sense.    Finally, I like how you talk about how 20 years ago the industry was prominently men.  Twenty years ago, I came over from the health care industry, specifically nursing,  and had a culture shock.  At my first D-Tech conference, I was like where are the women?  On the positive, there were no lines in the women's restrooms :).  I love working with the diverse workforce in this industry. 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 12, 2021

Military people need to figure out how to describe the skill set they have, how it applies to what the employer wants and connect those dots. Because outside of the military, employers often can't recognize how valuable these skills are

This is a great piece of advice-- approaching the same job opening from the civilian perspective vs. the military perspective is a hurdle those in service may not anticipate, but working to get that understanding (such as veterans special interest groups within a company) can help move past that inertia.

Thanks for your time, Sara, and for being a great example to fellow veterans

Paul Gwaltney's picture
Paul Gwaltney on Nov 15, 2021

Thanks for your service and for your wisdom.  Veterans are definitely a benefit to any industry they choose to engage with, but especially in the energy space and utilities.  

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