Com Ed advances new trainees as company looks to green future

ComEd's Joliet Training Center Single Phase Class poses on training poles.

Joliet — ComEd celebrated the graduation of 53 apprentices at its Joliet training facility to the level of Single Phase Overhead Line Workers on Friday, as the power company continues its push to expand its workforce and meet the demands of expanding and modernizing the power grid.

“The state of Illinois has goals for clean energy transition,” ComEd Vice President of Support Services Neena Hemmady said. “We’re going to be electrifying everything, and to do that an improved electric grid is essential.”

In 2022, ComEd announced a plan to hire more than 500 entry-level employees to work on power lines throughout northern Illinois. In April they will be hiring for fully certified overhead electrical workers to serve the community.

With an increased push for more electric vehicles, a movement to use fewer natural gas appliances in homes, and more work than ever being done online and with computers and data centers, the electric grid is going to need to be upgraded if the U.S. is going to reach its green energy goals in the coming decades. Additionally, the increase in strong and unpredictable weather events can damage infrastructure. Together, these issues will require more electric workers to manage and maintain the expanded grid.

“The grid is changing, it’s changed a lot in the last 20 years, and it’s going to change more,” Vice President of Distribution Operations for Suburban Areas Mike Martin told the new graduates. “You need to take the principles you’ve learned here and keep learning. You are important to our company and you’re important to our communities. You are the backbone of the plane to electrify the nation. I think everyone in here is going to do very, very well.”

Instructor Matt Nugent congratulates apprentice Theo Reynolds at the Joliet Training Center Graduation March 15.

Friday’s graduates completed a five-week training course to take them from 500 Volt workers, who work on lower-voltage projects, to single phase linemen, who work on wires on above-ground electrical poles. The program is the second of three phases toward becoming a fully qualified lineman, and the graduates now need to complete an addition year of field training with experienced workers before entering their final training program to become three phase overhead electricians. The entire apprenticeship program takes about two-and-a-half years.

“ComEd just submitted a plan to the Illinois Commerce Commission [last] week laying out what investments we will need to make the energy transition the state announced in 2019,” Hemmady explained. “It’s an extensive, 1,500-page plan, and we will need a skilled workforce to implement it.”

“The state of Illinois has goals for clean energy transition,” ComEd Vice President of Support Services Neena Hemmady said. “We’re going to be electrifying everything, and to do that an improved electric grid is essential.”

—  Neena Hemmady, ComEd vice president of Support Services

Some of the ways ComEd plans to modernize and improve the grid to handle the increased demand for power include increasing the amount of electricity derived from renewable wind and solar sources, including the use of community solar power sources; automating transmission capabilities; expanding grid capacity and improving maintenance systems; and implementing more electric vehicle infrastructure.

“We’re very hopeful about that grid plan we’ve submitted,” Hemmady said. “We think it sets the stage for this energy transition Illinois has planned.”

ComEd and its parent company, Exelon, have set a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 – the same year Illinois has set to have more than 1 million EVs on its roads – and to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Overhead Apprentice graduating class at the ComEd Joliet Training Center on March 15.

Training a larger workforce with modern techniques and technology will allow those changes to be implemented quicker and more efficiently.

Additionally, the increased hiring push, which is supported by IBEW Local 15, is bringing more high-paying jobs to Illinois communities, including communities of color and low-income communities, which Hemmady said the company has made efforts to target in its recruiting.