Watch CBS News

Boost in clean energy means more union jobs, training in Chicago area

A visit to a school that trains for a bright future in clean energy
A visit to a school that trains for a bright future in clean energy 03:16

CHICAGO (CBS) – Clean energy is an all-encompassing term for solar panels, electric vehicles, wind turbines and more.

The buzzword often comes up in discussions about the future. CBS 2's Lauren Victory visited a suburban school that's been turning that talk into action.

Soon enough, the process of installing solar panels will be repeated on top of stores, warehouses, and office buildings everywhere one looks. More and more people, especially commercial customers, are asking for solar panels.

Electrical apprentice Jeremy Schanck said it's a job his father, an electrician of 30 years, asked him, a rookie, about.

"It's actually pretty nice seeing he taught me all this stuff when I was a little kid and now that I'm here, I'm going to be able to teach him stuff that he's never got the chance to learn," Schanck said.

Since 1985, the Alsip electrical contractor school, IBEW-NECA Technical Institute, has been the source for new Union Local 134 members. It takes five years to complete classes.

Anthony Kolt wasn't fazed. The sign above him said it all: "Your pathway to a renewable future."

"The trade's only going to grow over the next, say 25, 30 years," the union apprentice said. "There's a lot of work to do, especially with renewable energy coming online."

The toolbelt at the institute has included solar technology for over two decades, but training intensified about five years ago. That's when commercial installation lessons became mandated for second-year apprentices.

Outside, the school director Gene Kent showed CBS 2 a sport where experienced union members can return for continuing education. The solar farm simulates a setup used by utility companies.

"We want to make sure that whether you've got five, 10, 15 years out in the field, you haven't been an apprentice in a while, you can still come back and sharpen those skills because we know that it's very important for our members to be best they can be," Kent said.

It's also very important to stay current, pun intended.

The equipment in the institute's electrical vehicle charging area is routinely updated as technology advances.

Another example of renewable energy training at the institute is a wind turbine simulator where people learn to climb up and down safely.

"We're always looking on the horizon to see what the next or new technology is so that our workforce is ready when it gets here," Kent said.

Non-union members are starting to see more chances to get involved with clean energy. ComEd recently wrapped up its first-ever electric vehicle course. Graduates received certifications that could help them apply for entry-level positions that are constantly being recruited for, like at the RE+ Midwest Clean Energy Job Fair in Chicago earlier this month.

"Electricians are certainly going to be busy for the next several decades," Kolt said.

Whatever the path, it's an industry that's supercharged with opportunities.

Schanck added, "It's definitely a career. It's a good career to be in."

The U.S. Department of Energy reported that solar, wind, and electric vehicle jobs rose by nearly 4% in 2022.

Many of the vendors at that job fair were looking for sales associates. CBS 2 learned that those positions can pay between $50,000 and $100,000 and that union electrical workers make at least $100,000 a year, even more money with overtime.

You can learn more about clean energy from the Solar Energy Industries Association, Illinois Solar Energy & Storage Association, and the Coalition for Community Solar Access.

Here is more information on how to apply to join the IBEW Local 134:

Apprenticeship Information by Alex Ortiz on Scribd

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.