Empowering Communities

ComEd Workforce Program Helps CONSTRUCT a Better Life

May 21, 2024

Underground Splicer Apprenticeship Graduates

On the morning of May 10, it was all cheers and smiles at the underground splicer apprenticeship graduation held at ComEd’s Chicago Training Center. However, one graduate looked back on the challenges and hard work it took to arrive at this major accomplishment.

Victor Velasquez and his five sisters were raised by his Mexican immigrant parents in the Chicago neighborhood of Back of the Yards. As he grew up, he worked several odd jobs to help his family make ends meet but never found his true calling. One day at a bus stop, after an exhausting day of working at the local cheese factory, he noticed a crew of ComEd field workers across the street. They stopped to perform electrical work, but what caught his eye were the smiles on their faces while they worked. At that moment, Victor prayed for guidance to land a job like that. Months later, he came across a Facebook post about the CONSTRUCT Infrastructure Academy – ComEd’s premiere trades training program designed to introduce participants to entry-level roles in the energy and utility fields. This was the sign Victor had been waiting for.

Victor applied and entered CONSTRUCT through a ComEd community partner, National Latino Education Institute (NLEI) the fall of 2017. Because the program is a serious time commitment and Victor knew this was the opportunity he had been searching for, he leaned on his family’s support to quit one of his two jobs. Victor chuckled as he recalled how he was able to clear his day for the program’s courses. “I started taking the night shift and as soon as I clocked out, I would have to sprint to NLEI to make it to class on time because it was too early for the CTA to begin the bus service.”

Despite the challenges, Victor was motivated to learn, earn the certifications the program offers such as CPR, OSHA-10, and CDL, and prepare for the CAST (Construction and Skilled Trades) exam, an industry-required test – all to become a qualified entry-level job candidate. Unique to the program, a job fair, organized and powered by a coalition of agency partners and sponsoring companies, connected program participants to potential employers. This is how Victor initially landed a role at People’s Gas as a seasonal project worker for two years. All the while he kept an eye on ComEd’s job postings because to Victor, joining ComEd was the target goal.

Finally, in October 2020, with industry certifications and new utility experience under his belt, Victor landed an entry-level role at ComEd as a Construction Worker – a starting point on the path to becoming a line worker. However, to enter into a ComEd apprenticeship, new hires are required to complete a 20-day qualifying school, which at the time, was being held at the Rockford Training Center. Again, Victor reminisced on his transportation barriers, “To make it to Rockford, I would have to take three buses to Maywood, where a fellow new hire lived, to hitch a ride with him.”

Victor Velasquez, ComEd Splicer

Upon completing the 20-day qualifying school, Victor joined ComEd’s underground splicer apprenticeship, and immediately noticed his life changing for the better. Not only did he use his first paycheck to treat his family to a restaurant meal, but he also used those very first ComEd paystubs as proof of income to purchase a car.

“As I continued through my apprenticeship, putting in the time and effort to study and practice, I could see my life getting back on track,” said Victor. “I was able to pay off all my debt and now that I’m a full-fledged line worker, I feel validated in the choices and sacrifices I made to participate in CONSTRUCT. My family is proud, and I’m both very happy and thankful for all the support I’ve received. It was all well worth it.”

Since its start, CONSTRUCT has trained more than 800 participants and connected over 70 percent to jobs post-graduation. Building on the success of the CONSTRUCT Infrastructure Academy, ComEd launched last year the CONSTRUCT Youth Academy, a paid summer training program for rising high school juniors and seniors to learn early on about future career options in the energy industry. Now through May 31, applications are being accepted by program partners the YMCA of Metro Chicago and Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin and Metropolitan Chicago. Learn more about ComEd career readiness programs by visiting www.ComEd.com/CleanEnergyJobs.