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Ameren recruits vets

Ameren recruits vets

November 29th, 2010 in News

Contributed photo Don Koonce of Holts Summit when he visited a kitchen of a school in Iraq while deployed as commander in 2003-04 of the 203rd Engineer Battalion of Joplin. Koonce is retired from the military and now heads a veterans group for the Ameren Corporation, which owns the Callaway Nuclear Power Plant where Koonce is now employed.

Ameren Missouri is making an effort to recruit military veterans in Callaway County with technical skills needed at the Callaway Nuclear Power Plant and also for other jobs available in the company.

Don Koonce of Holts Summit, workweek supervisor at the Callaway Nuclear Plant, is a former veteran himself. Koonce says the Callaway Nuclear Power Plant has the biggest percentage of veterans of any Ameren location.

"Ameren has always had a strategy of hiring local people. If you look at our Callaway Nuclear Plant, there are many Callaway County residents working at the plant. We also have learned that veterans are quality employees," Koonce said.

"I was present when the 1140th Military Police unit was deployed from Fulton to Afghanistan and I was there to welcome them home when they returned," Koonce said.

"The young commander of the Fulton unit was a friend of mine and a son of a Callaway Nuclear Power Plant employee," Koonce added.

Koonce is president of a veterans organization representing the entire Ameren Corporation with 9,200 employees. He said about 800 of Ameren's employees are veterans.

"Our organization, Ameren Military Veteran Employees (AMVE), is doing things to make sure Ameren is as good as it can be along the lines of employing veterans. We are a volunteer employee resource group," Koonce said.

Koonce said Ameren is a "Top 100 Military Friendly Employer" as designated by G.I. Jobs magazine.

"We went from No. 70 in the nation last year to No. 66 overall this year out of Fortune 500 Companies. This year Ameren created this new employee group to help us reach the top. Ameren recognizes the military as a valuable source of future employees," Koonce said.

An Army veteran, Koonce was deployed in 2003 and 2004 in Iraq. "I commanded the 203rd Engineer Battalion of Joplin," Koonce said. "We spent one and one-half years in Iraq. When I returned after my deployment, I didn't get my old job back at Ameren. I came home and they gave me a better one. So I didn't argue with them."

Koonce said he was treated extremely well by Ameren Missouri before, during and after he was deployed in Iraq.

"Right now I'm retired from the military so it's good to be heading up this effort to help other veterans," Koonce said. "I want to make a difference for the kids doing it for us now. It's a good role for me."

Koonce said the Callaway Nuclear Power Plant has an aging workforce and plans to replace about one half of its employees during the next 10 years.

"We see the military as a valuable pipeline of the kind of folks we want as employees. Military veterans are mission driven. They have high values. We need people who are accustomed to accomplishing missions in a difficult environment. They have the cleanliness issues associated with being in the military. You have to maintain a fairly straight line to remain in the military. All of those things are desirable for us in seeking employees," Koonce said.

The 50 percent turnover rate in the next decade is not just at the nuclear plant but also throughout the entire Ameren workforce.

Veterans often have the experience needed at Ameren Missouri. But sometimes there is a gap in translating the experience of veterans into terms and concepts that can be used by a civilian employer such as Ameren.

Certifications are now available through the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Apprenticeship. Ameren is trying to match these certifications to Ameren's need for skilled employees.

Callaway County and other Central Missouri veterans also can use their GI Bill benefits for apprenticeship and on-job training programs by participating in certified positions at Ameren.

There still exists a gap to match military experience with specialized jobs in the energy sector. To help close the gap, Ameren has started to work with universities and colleges to develop energy-focused degree and certification programs.

Koonce said Ameren has hired nuclear engineers who have experience in the military, such as nuclear-powered submarines.

Ameren has a long history of hiring military veterans. It invites veterans planning to leave the military within the next six months to two years to contact Ameren to learn more about career openings.

Ameren Missouri was nominated for the Secretary of Defense's "Employer Support Freedom Award," the U.S. government's highest recognition awarded to employers for supporting their employees in the National Guard or Army, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard Reserve.

The company provides security and support to reservists and their families through continued benefits when reservists are called to active duty. In addition, Ameren has an aggressive military recruiting strategy that includes base visits, career fairs and multiple online resources.

The firm has a corporate military leave policy. Ameren provides employee benefits that include tuition reimbursement. Some positions at the firm qualify for relocation assistance.