Maine Compass: The future of clean energy depends on workforce development programs and unionized jobs.
Exposure to my current career path came after I accidentally started a fire while trying to fix a house. After calling a qualified electrician for help, we had an enlightening conversation about his background, which prompted me to research the profession further. I quickly decided to change careers from retailer to journeyman electrician. Like my father before me, I am now a member of the local union for my industry in Maine. For the past two years, I have served as Director of Training for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) 567. I began my journey to journeyman electrician in the same apprenticeship program I oversee now.
Although I grew up in a union household, I didn’t initially understand the purpose of being part of it. I expected all employers to provide their workers with the means for a sustainable life and retirement. But unionized jobs in the electrical industry offer higher wages, safer work environments, job security and benefits including retirement and medical care. In my childhood, I suffered from ear problems for which, without the union health insurance that my father received, we could not have paid for the treatment. Union benefits saved me a lifetime of pain.
Since I participated in the IBEW apprenticeship program, there have been changes in the industry that have made different learning experiences and opportunities available. Most notably, the increasing use of renewable energy and investments made through the Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act (IIJA) in electric vehicles (EVs) and EV infrastructure.
Since 2020, the number of our first-year apprentices has nearly doubled as opportunities in solar and other renewable energy work have expanded due to increased investment at the state and federal levels. These work opportunities allow us to offer additional work placements in our apprenticeship program for those wishing to pursue a career as an electrician at little or no cost, while being fairly compensated. As the need for electricians in the clean energy economy grows, we offer courses that better train our workers for the jobs of the future.
In 2021, I taught my first EV charger installation course, a critical component in preparing for the new jobs created by the IIJA’s investments in installing a nationwide network of EV chargers. The Biden administration has set a goal for half of all new vehicles sold to be electric by 2030. Developing our nation’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure is necessary to make this widespread adoption electric vehicles a reality.
Not only is the IIJA a victory for job creation for union members, it is also a victory for protecting our communities from the worsening impacts of climate change. On average, electric vehicles emit 67% less pollution than conventional internal combustion engine vehicles. Using renewable energy to charge an electric vehicle can completely eliminate its emissions. So, in addition to providing well-paying union jobs, investments in electric vehicles help reduce exhaust air pollution that leads to respiratory, cardiovascular and other health problems, while reducing exhaust emissions. greenhouse gases that are accelerating the climate crisis.
As we continue to improve our public infrastructure to reduce pollution and increase resilience to climate change, we must ensure these efforts are transformative. Leaders must preserve the economic security of workers needed to advance a clean energy economy and sustain it over the long term. Public investments should be coupled with good employment standards, such as project labor agreements and apprenticeship usage requirements. Registered apprenticeship programs are a pipeline to move people into the highly skilled, well-paying, and in-demand occupations created by this transition. These programs strengthen our workforce, teach valuable skills and create opportunities for workers to find a secure place in the middle class or change careers.
Investing in green technology and renewable energy reduces family energy bills, public health issues and pollution while making the electricity grid more reliable. Continued investment in these technologies and the promotion of good employment standards and workforce development programs – such as those found in LD 1969 in Maine, which has now been enacted – will create quality jobs. in clean energy and advance equity in the renewable energy sector. These are imperative to ensure that workers can access these fields, learn the skills of the trade, and earn wages and benefits that will support careers in building and maintaining greener infrastructure.
Justin Walsh is the training director for a local electricians union.
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