Empowering Communities

A Light at the End of the Tunnel for Some, ComEd Training Program Launches Another Session

January 9, 2024

From the time he was young, Nijat has always been fascinated by construction—specifically, tall buildings, which made him interested in math and physics. So, when Nijat emigrated to the United States from Afghanistan in 2014, he continued to chase down his dream of one day becoming a civil engineer.

Life was tough as a young immigrant with limited English-speaking skills and the weight of providing for his family. And yet, things became even tougher when in the summer of 2021, American troops withdrew from Afghanistan prompting a refugee exodus to avoid conflict. More than 7,000 miles away, Nijat, a student at University of Illinois Chicago residing in the neighborhood of West Ridge, took action to aid fellow Afghans landing in Chicago through community organizations like Watapur and Ketab Relief.

It was during his community service that he learned about ComEd’s CONSTRUCT Infrastructure Academy, an 11-week job training program designed to build the pipeline of diverse, local talent for entry-level roles in the utility and construction industry. Although Nijat was both going to school and working full-time, he felt it imperative to join a program that could propel his career forward.

“I joined CONSTRUCT because I knew it would take my career to the next level,” said Nijat. “I knew that the program would supplement my civil engineering major and that it accepted people with different levels of skills and education, pairing them with the in-demand infrastructure careers I had been dreaming of obtaining since I was young.”

To Nijat’s credit, math and science know no borders, and leveraging those skills, he was able to ace this portion of training. Conversely, he was eager to get a handle on soft skills – networking, communicating effectively, and interviewing – a hallmark of any good workforce development program. But what makes CONSTRUCT unique are the opportunities afforded to job seekers enrolled, as they are able to network with and job shadow alongside 20 local hiring companies, with a chance for a job at the end. Since CONSTRUCT launched in 2013, the program has successfully graduated over 800 participants – with 70 percent of those graduates earning job placement at the end of their training.

“The CONSTRUCT Infrastructure Academy is a gateway to providing local residents the opportunity to step into family-sustaining careers in the utilities and trades fields – which we know are in high demand to support the clean energy transition,” said Workforce Development Manager at ComEd, Laticia Holbert. “Working with a coalition of employers, this program is playing a critical role in bringing more diverse local residents into full-time roles in our field every year, while ensuring that area employers have the skilled and qualified talent to help meet their growing hiring needs, as well.”

It was at a ComEd career fair that Nijat was able to land his big break – an internship, which led him to his current role as a project engineer at Trice Construction Company. In his role, he supports project managers through project estimations, conducting field observations for quality control, and performing tests. Seven months into his current role, Nijat already has his eyes set on growth opportunities, as he expects to graduate with his civil engineering degree in the spring of 2024.

Trice Construction Company, a woman-owned firm located on the Chicago south side, is a long-term CONSTRUCT employer partner. “The field of candidates and their level of preparation continues to get more impressive. We are proud to have hired a number of well-prepared individuals from the program and we are delighted to have Nijat on the Trice team,” said President & CEO of Trice Construction Company, Stephanie Hickman. “He has made an immediate impact on the team in project management and field operations, and continues to learn and improve his technical capability. Finally, we are inspired by Nijat’s personal story of challenge and tenacity. We look forward to his growth in our company and the electric utility industry in general.”

Now entering its 11th year, CONSTRUCT is accepting applications for the next session through 8 partner agencies, with CRED newly added in 2024. The program welcomes adults of any age and any level of experience looking for a career change, the qualifications for entry-level roles in construction and utilities, or like Nijat, searching for a point of access towards their dream job.

Learn more about the CONSTRUCT Infrastructure Academy on ComEd’s website and apply at the agency nearest you before the session kicks off on January 29th.

“I’m so grateful to CONSTRUCT, and only wish I had known about the program sooner. I had been working so hard for so long without knowing if I’d land a job in my dream field,” said Nijat. “There are people out there that just need the extra help to get their foot in the door like CONSTRUCT did for me.”