CHICAGO (AP) — Returning veterans may find jobs as utility workers, through a new Chicago community college training program aimed at certifying them to work in the natural gas industry. About 100 veterans per year will go through the seven-month program designed to help them transition to steady civilian jobs.
State officials on Wednesday announced the new $3.5 million collaboration between state agencies, community colleges and the gas utility sector.
The first 25 students start Thursday. They will undergo six months of college classes at Dawson Technical Institute and Wilbur Wright College geared toward working in the natural gas industry. Then they will have a month-long internship with utility company Peoples Gas and be certified as a utility worker.
The certificate coursework will count for half of an associate degree.
The program is the result of discussions about how to train new utility workers, said Peoples Gas President Will Evans. He says the city plans to replace about 2,000 miles of cast iron gas pipes in the city over a 20 year period to modernize the infrastructure.
"You can't do that work without a highly skilled workforce," the utility president said. Peoples Gas employs about 900 utility workers in Chicago, he said.
Michael Langford, president of Utility Workers Union of America, said the country should help the men and women who served in the military find good jobs. Veterans are specially equipped to respond after events like natural disasters he said, when "utility workers are on the front lines to restore and rebuild infrastructure."
The chair of City Colleges of Chicago Board of Trustees, Paula Wolff, said the program gives students a degree of economic value, increasing their earnings and contributions to their families and communities.