This utility is training workers for the clean energy future – with an eye on inclusion and equity

A clean energy future is attainable only with a proper workforce to support it, a fact recognized by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) and Illinois’ largest electric utility, ComEd. The ICC recently approved ComEd’s $30 million Workforce Development Implementation Plan – a first-of-its-kind plan that establishes three clean energy jobs training programs for the citizens of Illinois.

The bones of the plan were established by the Future Energy Jobs Act, a bipartisan clean energy development package passed by the state legislature in December 2016. The act directs ComEd to implement its job training programs with special attention given to the recruitment, training, and placement of economically-disadvantaged communities, foster care alumni, and returning citizens.  Since the bill went into effect, ComEd has worked with a variety of groups – including Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and environmental justice stakeholders – to meet the legislation’s goals.

By crafting a comprehensive and inclusive workforce development plan, ComEd is setting an example that other utilities can follow as the U.S. transitions to a clean energy economy.

The three programs

ComEd’s job training programs are organized under three umbrellas:

The program will create 2,000 jobs for foster care alumni and returning citizens (people coming back from incarceration).

  1. Solar Training Pipeline: Designed to establish a pool of trained solar installers, the program will create 2,000 jobs for foster care alumni and returning citizens (people coming back from incarceration). Training providers are selected through a competitive bidding process administered by a community foundation. In the bidding guidelines, the foundation notes that preference will be given to woman- and minority-led organizations. The pipeline will feed into projects approved under the Solar for All program, which was also established by the Future Energy Jobs Act and incentivizes the development of solar projects in economically-disadvantaged neighborhoods.
  2. Multi-Cultural Jobs Program: This program funds six community-based, diversity-focused organizations in the Chicago area to provide participants “development, economic, or career-related opportunities.” It offers the widest array of training, including in the technology sector and solar sales and marketing, and even offers existing business owners training for expansion.
  3. Solar Craft Apprenticeship Program: Administered by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 134, the apprenticeship program aims to offer communities solar industry opportunities.
    • Solar training into existing apprenticeship programs at 18 sites throughout Illinois.
    • Solar training in six Illinois Green Economy Network partner community colleges, including a solar site assessment and sales program.
    • A high school solar curriculum in eight or nine underserved schools that will guide students towards future apprenticeships.

Ensuring a just transition

ComEd’s efforts fit into the Future Energy Jobs Act’s larger goals of applying an equity lens to the clean energy transition.

The Solar Training Pipeline also includes a goal of having at least 50 percent of trainees come from environmental justice communities. Focusing access to trainings with historically marginalized and underserved groups at the forefront ensures that the Future Energy Jobs Act’s benefits and investments are spread equitability.

The Solar Training Pipeline also includes a goal of having at least 50 percent of trainees come from environmental justice communities. 

Over a three month period, ComEd held a series of forums to engage non-profits and workforce training experts in developing individual programs. The resulting plan places a strong emphasis on partnerships so that training providers aren’t limiting outreach to single neighborhoods, but instead are forming community relationships to reach broad swaths of the state, including areas previously untouched by the transition to clean energy.

Elements of the plan will likely change over time. As an active member of the Clean Jobs Coalition, EDF is working with ComEd, training providers, and our partner community organizations to continuously provide feedback and support.

We want to see the plan succeed and provide well-paid jobs for communities. By including future workers from economically disadvantaged and environmental justice communities in the job-training design process, ComEd’s already taking a firm step in the right direction for Illinois.

Photo source: Grid Alternatives

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