In mid-June, 10 trainees climbed onto a roof to install solar for the first time. It marked a special day for GRID in Illinois: the culmination of an eight-week training, combining Lutheran Services of Southern Illinois’ (LSSI) Employment Skills School and a GRID Alternatives solar installation bootcamp, aimed at helping individuals who were formerly incarcerated start careers in the renewable energy field.
“The growing solar industry has been a jobs driver in states across the country, and it’s incredibly exciting to see the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) recognize the need to create opportunity for returning citizens and others in Illinois who are seeking long-term career pathways and to see these efforts kicking off,” said Erika Symmonds, Vice President of Workforce Development and Service-Learning at GRID.
The classroom was electric with enthusiasm and curiosity about solar, with participants hailing from all over the state with varied histories and perspectives. Besides demonstrating passion for the curriculum, everyone showed support and care for each other as they worked through their transition from incarceration. In the span of a week we celebrated one person’s progression from a halfway home to his own apartent, and the approval of a large solar project for local college - signs of opportunities to come. David Andrade, a GRID staffer himself familiar with the justice system and the transition out of incarceration, led the OSHA 10 piece of the curriculum and provided a big dose of inspiration and a strong value for safety!
They are the first cohort in southern Illinois to train under the FEJA, the most significant and comprehensive energy bill passed by the Illinois legislature to-date. FEJA is expected to jumpstart Illinois’ solar industry, and includes major investments in training programs for individuals from economically disadvantaged communities, alumni of the Illinois foster care system, and formerly incarcerated individuals to ensure that the growing solar economy includes and benefits everyone.
The event showcased the collaboration and partnerships essential to FEJA’s success. Local installer Elevate Energy received one of FEJA’s Solar Pipeline Training grants to conduct and worked with LSSI to put together the eight week program with support from GRID and AES Solar. With AES Solar contributing materials, regional guidance and coordination support, we worked with nonprofit housing organization Habitat for Humanity of Williamson County to find a great client, who hosted the trainees from LSSI and whose home now sports a solar array.
“Partnership and collaboration make progress towards new policy like the Future Energy Jobs Act possible,” said Anne Evens, CEO of Elevate Energy. “These are first steps on the road towards bringing the jobs and services from the clean energy economy to the people and communities that may otherwise have been left behind.”
We want to say thank you to our parnters, but most of all the trainees. The solar industry is full of potential, and these 10 individuals represent parts of the talented and motivated workforce available to take it on.