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December 2011/January 2012

Diversity/Careers December 2011/January 2012 Issue




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Diversity In Action

The TVA is hiring, with greener options in mind

The authority is looking for techies for work on nuclear conversion and development, gas turbines, and cleaner-burning plants, says the hiring manager


2011 was a significant hiring year for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Some 1,300 new employees joined the TVA system, 300 more than in 2010. The trend is expected to continue in 2012, says Laura Paddock, manager of talent sourcing. Nearly 200 of the 2011 hires were engineers and 100 were IT pros.

There are two main reasons for the increased hiring: older employees are retiring, and the authority is working on a mission to scale back on fossil fuel and seek out greener options. "We need more folks to go into nuclear conversion and development and our gas turbine area, and techies who can change plants to make them cleaner burning," Paddock says.

The TVA is a corporation owned by the U.S. government. Receiving no taxpayer money and making no profits, it provides electricity for nine million people in parts of seven southeastern states at prices below the national average. It also works in flood control, navigation and land management for the huge Tennessee River system, and assists utilities and state and local governments with economic development. TVA, created in 1933 as a regional economic development agency, has renewed its vision to help the Tennessee Valley and the nation toward a cleaner and more secure energy future, relying more on nuclear power and energy efficiency and less on coal.

Engineers and IT pros are clearly a major percentage of the 12,500 employees and 13,000 contractors who work fulltime at TVA. Opportunities for both groups are "vast" at each of TVA's major business units: nuclear, fossil and hydro power. They are also well represented in the corporate and transmission organization, Paddock says.

At the corporate level, TVA seeks techies with strong analytical abilities and a grasp of overall business objectives and management practices. TVA also needs operators, mechanical and electrical technicians, instrument mechanics and linemen, and there's a one- to three-year apprentice program that provides on-the-job and classroom training.

"The soft skills are also important to us," Paddock says. "You need to communicate well, ask questions, use your critical thinking skills and be able to interface with all types of people across various levels of the organization."

TVA is unique as a power company, owning all 18,000 miles of its transmission assets, including substations and transmission systems. Considering the vast area TVA covers, that poses a challenge to both IT and physical security, and the utility needs people who can work with that, Paddock says.

"Candidates with prior experience in power systems, even as interns, are attractive to us because of the uniqueness of what we do."

TVA considers its own intern program a "platform for knowledge transfer." As the workforce ages, the company pairs up interns with experienced employees for two to three years. TVA brings in more than 200 interns each semester, and the conversion rate to fulltime job status is about 80 percent.

To recruit diverse employees, TVA has relationships with HBCUs like North Carolina A&T, Tuskegee, Spelman and Morehouse colleges and alumni organizations as well as military groups. It also works with NSBE, NSHMBA and SWE, and uses LinkedIn for a targeted presence.

About a quarter of the candidates referred to managers for job interviews are diverse, Paddock says. The current goal is 13.8 percent for ethnically diverse hires and 22.3 percent for gender-diverse hires. In the next four or five years TVA is shooting for 29.8 percent for ethnic hires and 38 percent for gender hires.

Peyton Hairston is SVP for diversity and labor relations. He notes that TVA is educating its managers to emphasize the importance of diversity. Employee resource groups (ERGs) include Disability Awareness, the Association of Asian Pacific Island Americans of TVA, the Organization of Native Americans, the Society of Minority Engineers and chapters of the American Association of Blacks in Energy, Blacks in Government, Federally Employed Women, the Greater Chattanooga Hispanic Association, the National Black MBA Association, the National Society of Black Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers. All the groups have charters, and most have executive sponsors, Hairston explains. "They facilitate arrangements for meetings and working with other folks."

ERGs, he notes, are useful in keeping people connected. "With an organization as large and spread out as ours is, people can feel isolated. But ERGs introduce them to other people who can serve as a resource to them. Our retention overall is fairly good, but you always want to shoot for 100 percent," he adds with a smile.

TVA is reorganizing its diversity council. The new version will have about thirty members and taskforces will be formed to tackle issues as they arise. The council will also interface with the ERGs.

The authority is working on a formalized mentoring program to supplement the mentoring activities of the ERGs.

TVA is also working on succession planning; during quarterly meetings management identifies candidates throughout the company, Hairston says. It's important that there's a strong diversity representation among succession candidates, he adds.

There's a formal telework program at TVA, and flextime is available where practical; some jobs obviously have to be done on site and by the clock. There are on-site gyms for employees and their families, open around the clock, and other initiatives to promote family health. TVA also offers an extensive employee assistance program as well as a referral service for daycare, physicians and other areas of interest.

Most TVA sites show a strong employee commitment to community service. The authority sponsors a FIRST Robotics program and has a formal education initiative. "We help out elementary, junior high and high schools within our territories," Paddock says. "We stress career days that explain the careers we offer at TVA."

TVA also has a very active Junior Achievement program, and many of the ERGs work to help local schools.

Last spring tornadoes caused devastation in areas throughout the South. Within forty-eight hours, TVA had organized some 1,400 employee volunteers to help with storm cleanup. "The response was overwhelming," Paddock says.

Hairston wants to tell job seekers that "We recognize that diversity is more than numbers. It encompasses people's talents, experiences and personalities. TVA wants people with many different backgrounds."

D/C




Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)
www.tva.gov

Headquarters: Knoxville, TN
Employees: 12,500 plus 13,000 contractors
Revenues: $11.25 billion
Business: Utilities and flood control, navigation and land management for the Tennessee River system

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