Illinois’ Renewable Energy Job Training Programs Got 443 People Hired in 2019; Wind and Solar Businesses are Eager to Do More

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Path to 100: Training can create a more diverse and equitable clean energy industry, but stable policy needed for job growth

Clockwise from top left: Terry Woods of StraightUp Solar, Cynthia Meyers of ReThink Electric, Maricella Garcia of Fresh Coast Solar and Bejeray Morrison of Sunrun.

The training programs created by the Future Energy Jobs Act show that renewable energy can create careers for people who have too often been denied opportunity. In order to build on this progress, we need to pass legislation that supports renewable energy growth.

Illinois’ renewable energy job training programs showed strong progress in 2019, but policy change is needed to prevent the collapse of the state’s wind and solar industry and ensure more renewable energy jobs will be available in Illinois. The 2019 Workforce Development Implementation Plan Report filed with the Illinois Commerce Commission reported that, in 2019:

  • 93% of job trainees completed the program
  • 94% of eligible individuals found employment
  • Training participants were 39% African American, 37% White, 22% Hispanic or Latinx
  • Training programs served 71 people who were returning from incarceration
  • Training programs served 203 residents of environmental justice communities

Trainees landed in roles in solar installation, sales, inspection and more. Illinois’ renewable energy industry has grown rapidly in recent years and both large and small businesses have been eager to hire training program graduates. The Illinois Solar Energy Association held job fairs to connect applicants and community organizations with its solar business members; the most recent event was held on March 11 in Midlothian.

But without a change to Illinois energy policy, job growth and opportunities for job trainees will grind to a halt in the coming months. Illinois Power Agency data shows the state’s renewable energy program, as it stands, won’t support new projects beyond 2020 and Illinois will fall far short of its mandated clean energy goals.

A few of the trainees who joined Illinois’ solar industry in 2019:

  • Terry Woods completed training and was hired as a solar installer at StraightUp Solar in Bloomington. Reflecting on the impact of the programs, Terry said, “I am the change everybody talks about. I’m an ingredient to a greater solution.”
  • Cynthia Meyers is a lead solar installer for ReThink Electric, which is based in Wood Dale. Cynthia completed the LYTE solar training program and earned her NABCEP certification in January 2020. Cynthia chose to work in the solar industry because “I saw an opportunity to inspire women and inspire people in my community to do something that was changing history.”
  • Maricella Garcia graduated from the Aspira job training program and started as a solar installer for Fresh Coast Solar in October 2019. She previously worked in retail and enrolled in the training program to expand her opportunities. “Doing my part to bring these systems online has been more than enough to make me confident,” said Maricella. “We’re building a better way to power our communities.”
  • Bejeray Morrison is the Solar for All Program Manager at Sunrun. Bejeray previously organized waste reduction projects in several communities on Chicago’s South Side. After completing solar training with the Chicago Urban League and joining Sunrun, Bejeray noted, “solar energy has allowed me to keep fighting for people in my community to live better lives while expanding my own career opportunities.”

“The training programs created by the Future Energy Jobs Act show that renewable energy can create careers for people who have too often been denied opportunity,” said Rep. Will Davis, sponsor of the Path to 100 Act. “In order to build on this progress, we need to pass legislation that supports renewable energy growth.”

“ISEA’s member companies have been proud to strengthen their teams by hiring graduates of Illinois’ job training programs,” said Lesley McCain, Executive Director of the Illinois Solar Energy Association. “It’s important we create long-term stability in Illinois’ solar market so we can expand on the early successes we’re seeing today.”

“This report shows that the solar industry is committed to hiring people from historically marginalized communities and making the state’s policy goals a reality,” said Nakhia Morrissette, Central Region Director for SEIA. “But we can’t continue creating solar jobs unless the state has a stable solar market. Legislation to fix the state’s renewable energy program will allow us to continue creating a more diverse clean energy workforce.”

Path to 100 is supported by labor and renewable energy organizations working to create jobs in Illinois. For more information, visit http://www.pathto100.net.

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Peter Gray
@Path_to_100
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