Illinois solar contractor Rethink Electric recently began its 2023 apprenticeship program. This year’s class is its largest to date with 23 apprentices.
“The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) signed by Gov. Pritzker in 2021 and the Inflation Reduction Act signed by President Biden in 2022 both contribute greatly to the current momentum in the Illinois solar market,” said Dawn Heid, CEO of Rethink Electric. “Not only is our business growing and creating jobs, but renewable energy contractors need more skilled technicians to fill their project needs.”
The merit-based apprenticeship cohort, called Rethink Electrical Advanced Program (REAP), is an education program originally developed by Rethink Electric in 2017 as a way to train their own workforce. Rethink currently has 96 employees, many of whom started working for the company under REAP. One REAP graduate, for example, came to Rethink Electric after working a job at a hardware store and becoming interested in solar. Now, he is serving as the construction foreman on a 1-MW solar rooftop project.
Starting on day one, REAP participants are paid employees of Rethink Electric often earning prevailing wage. Apprentices are assigned to jobs to learn the basics of solar construction, including how to use the tools, how a jobsite runs and completing OSHA 10 safety certification. For the next four years, participants follow a traditional paid electrical apprenticeship that includes classroom work and hands-on job training, with the goal of graduating to a journeyman level.
“Solar can be complicated and at times dangerous, which makes apprenticeship programs much more important,” Heid said. “The people involved put in a serious commitment. We need to develop them into skilled construction professionals to make sure our jobs are completed correctly.”
Apprentices come from multiple referral sources throughout the state. Rethink Electric’s Director of Education reaches out to local high schools and partners with pre-apprenticeship programs through the Chicago Urban League Workforce Development Center.
The IRA promotes local apprenticeship programs and calls for prevailing wages, which can help disadvantaged individuals develop careers, boost local economies, and contribute to climate justice. CEJA dedicates funds to training a diverse workforce. With these incentives contributing to the success of REAP, Rethink Electric is proud to share it has developed a workforce where 60% of employees have diverse backgrounds.
While Rethink Electric developed the REAP apprenticeship education to meet internal employment needs, the company is looking to expand its reach beyond Rethink employment paths. REAP graduates have the skills necessary to work for any non-union electrical contractor.
“Our client project budget for next year is double what it is this year, so I can only imagine the growth other companies like ours are experiencing,” Heid said, “We are committed to reviving the apprenticeship style of on-the-job training so that we can help the entire industry shine.”
News item from Rethink Electric