Over the past two years, many industries have struggled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, triggering one of the worst job crises since the Great Depression. According to labor statistics, millions lost jobs or were furloughed, while others had to switch occupations.
One industry that has remained strong is the energy industry. In 2021, new jobs in the U.S. energy sector grew 4% over 2020, outpacing the overall U.S. employment, which climbed 2.8% at the same time according to the United States Energy and Employment Report.
As part of the local energy industry, Virginia Natural Gas has kept up with industry trends over the past two years and looks to increase positions at the energy company in 2022. In 2020, VNG hired 38 new employees, a 30% increase over 2019, and 25 new hires in 2021, all while dealing with an ongoing pandemic.
As the industry continues to expand, the energy company hopes to add nearly 40 new hires to the payroll this year in positions that include utility workers, engineers, construction inspectors, asset protection, and project coordinators.
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“As a Top Workplace in Hampton Roads, Virginia Natural Gas is the perfect place to start a career in one of the fastest growing industries,” said Robert Duvall, president of Virginia Natural Gas. “We attract and retain highly skilled employees who remain with the company for sometimes up to 30 years, and in fact, we have an employee retiring soon with 50 years with the company. That speaks volumes to our culture which is built on mutual respect, inclusiveness, and safety, as well as keeping customers at the center of everything we do.”
Take Kevin Stark, an engineer with VNG who has been with the company for more than 29 years. Stark began his career with VNG as an intern in the marketing department, and after graduating from Old Dominion University, rose through the ranks and into the engineering department.
Taking his knowledge of roadway projects, he now handles city service projects. He may have taken an unconventional route to the engineering department since his bachelor’s degree is in business administration, but he feels the company does a wonderful job mentoring employees into successful careers.
“I enjoy the design side of my job,” said Stark. “It’s a challenging job, solving day-to-day problems, but I work with a great team, and we keep the projects moving.”
He also loves working for the energy company that put a lot of trust in him, he said, to promote him to his present position.
“Virginia Natural Gas treats their employees great,” he said. “Not only do I get the chance to do something I love, but the people are great, as well as the pay and benefits. I can’t see myself working any other place.”
One of the newest engineers with the company, Sloan Parker, agrees with Stark, saying that the energy industry really is the best place to begin a career.
Parker, a graduate of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, joined the VNG engineering department in May 2022 after graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering. The 25-year-old always knew he wanted to begin his career in some aspect of the energy industry.
“I’ve always been interested in energy,” said Parker. “Even though I’ve only been here a few months, the work has been exciting as I’m learning about all the systems. Everyone is very helpful in answering questions and mentoring, plus the pay and benefits are great. I couldn’t ask for anything better fresh out of college.”
Parker joins the growing number of other recent college graduates entering the energy-industry workforce. Currently, the average age of U.S. utility workers is over 50, several years older than the national average in other careers. This means that 25% of the utility workforce will retire in the next five to ten years according to the U.S. Department of Energy, and not enough skilled workers will exist to fill the gap.
Due to a “graying” of the energy industry workforce, VNG is proactively hiring in critically-manned positions, such as utility workers, to replace those workers who could retire soon, taking with them valuable institutional knowledge.
“That could be problematic as many of our positions are largely dependent on OJT, or on-the-job training,” said Michele Potter, Human Resources partner at VNG. “That’s why we are proactively hiring in those key entry-level roles. It’s the perfect way to learn about the natural gas industry with the opportunity for growth and career advancement.”
As the industry continues to expand, VNG will continue to offer career openings with opportunities for long-term career growth and stability in the energy industry. And as a Top Workplace in Hampton Roads, it’s the perfect place to start a career while being well compensated with the potential for high earnings.
“This all shows we are hiring and VNG is the best place to start a career and learn about the energy industry,” added Potter. “Our industry is booming, and VNG offers successful team members the opportunity to learn from some of the industry’s best and be able to parlay that into a long and successful career.”
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