An Illinois electric utility, ComEd (an Exelon Company) has launched a new Solar Pipeline Training Program in collaboration with the Illinois Central College to help expand and diversify the eligible workforce serving the growing field of renewable energy jobs. The program, which was rolled out this year, provides hands-on technical training to individuals looking to begin a career in the solar energy industry or pivot from the declining fossil fuel industry.
The Solar Pipeline Training Program was created in the wake of the state’s 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act and its mission is furthered by Illinois’ well-known 2021 Clean Energy Jobs Act. It is one of three technical training programs administered by the Exelon subsidiary, but the first to focus on providing an entry into the clean energy sector to individuals who identify as BIPOC, have outgrown the state foster care system, or were previously incarcerated.
The program comes as a part of a flurry of clean energy initiatives by Illinois over the past few years. The state has been praised by environmental advocacy groups and clean energy coalitions for their aggressive timeline on cutting pollution. The Clean Energy Jobs Act plans to cut the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030, and 100% by 2050 — a goal that aligns with those outlined by President Biden in April of this year.
Training a new workforce for the intricate construction and installation of solar panels may prove crucial to the state’s success if they strive to meet the ambitious timeline. At the same time, the Clean Energy Jobs Act provides a unique opportunity for organizations to induct a new, multi-cultural workforce into the emerging industry. All adults over the age of 18 are eligible for the program, but in an industry whose workers are disproportionately white, cisgender men (according to 2020 statistics published by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics), the main focus will be recruiting women and individuals from different racial or ethnic backgrounds.
As the country continues to shift away from fossil fuel-powered energy, industries like coal and gas have seen employment layoffs, and according to ComEd, those displaced individuals would be a potential fit for recruitment as well.
The Solar Pipeline Training Program will provide enrolled students with guidance on items from resume writing and interviewing skills to solar design, NEC codes, and photovoltaic training and troubleshooting.
ComEd confirmed that their program has a goal of training 2,000 new workers for the renewable energy workforce, and they hope that at least 50% of those will be from environmental justice organizations or communities.
A notable goal of the Solar Training Pipeline Program is also to provide workers with fair wages and the ability to increase their income over time. According to the program’s website, entry-level solar panel installation roles pay around $21,000, offer a median income of $41,005, and the ability for experienced employees to earn up to $68,970 annually. The rates are above Illinois’s most recently recorded median income from 2019 of $32,495.
Susan Massel, Chief Communications Officer of Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership says that the program’s goals at the end of the day are human ones at their core: “meeting people where they are, and lifting them up and bringing them to a career that will sustain their families and their spirits.”