Exposure to my current career path came after accidentally lighting a fire in an attempted home repair. After calling a trained electrician for help, we entered into an enlightening conversation on his background, which pushed me to further research the profession. I quickly determined a change of career from retail to journeyman electrician. Like my father before me, I am now a member of my industry’s local union in Maine. For the past two years, I’ve served as the Training Director for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) 567. I began my path toward journeyman electrician in the same apprenticeship program I now oversee.

Despite growing up in a union household, I didn’t initially understand the purpose of being in one. I expected all employers to provide their workers with the means for a sustainable life and retirement. But union jobs in the electrical industry provide higher wages, safer work environments, job security, and benefits, including pension and medical. In childhood, I suffered from ear issues for which, without the union health insurance my father received, we wouldn’t have been able to afford treatment. Union benefits spared me a lifetime of pain.

Since I participated in IBEW’s apprenticeship program, there have been shifts in the industry that have made different experiences and learning opportunities available. Most notably, the increasing use of renewable energy and the investments made through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) in electric vehicles (EVs) and EV infrastructure.

Since 2020, the number of our first-year apprentices has nearly doubled as opportunities in solar work and other renewables have expanded due to increased investments at state and federal levels. These opportunities for work allow us to offer additional placement in our apprenticeship program for those who want to pursue careers as electricians at little-to-no cost — all while being fairly compensated. As the need for electricians in the clean energy economy grows, we offer courses that better train our workers for the jobs of the future.

In 2021, I taught my first EV charger installation class, a critical component to prepare for the new jobs created by the IIJA’s investments in installing a national network of EV chargers. The Biden administration set a goal of having half of all new vehicles sold be electric by 2030. Building out our country’s EV charging infrastructure is necessary to make this wide-scale adoption of EVs a reality.

Not only is the IIJA a job-creating win for union members, but it’s also a win for protecting our communities from the worsening consequences of climate change. On average, EVs emit 67% less pollution than conventional vehicles with internal combustion engines. Using renewable energy to charge an EV can eliminate its emissions altogether. So in addition to providing good-paying, union jobs, investments in EVs help decrease tailpipe air pollution that leads to respiratory, cardiovascular, and other health problems — all while cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating the climate crisis.

As we continue improving our public infrastructure to reduce pollution and increase climate change resiliency, we must ensure these efforts are transformative. Leaders must safeguard the economic security of the workers needed to advance a clean energy economy and its long-term maintenance. Public investments must be paired with good jobs standards, like Project Labor Agreements and apprenticeship utilization requirements. Registered apprenticeship programs are a pipeline to move people into the high-skill, high-wage, and in-demand occupations being created by this transition. These programs strengthen our workforce, teach valuable skills, and create opportunities for workers to find a secure place in the middle class or to shift career paths.

Investing in green technology and renewable energy reduces family energy bills, public health problems, and pollution while making the power grid more reliable. Continuing investments in these technologies and promoting good jobs standards and workforce development programs — like those found in L.D. 1969 in Maine, which has now been signed into law — will create quality clean energy jobs and advance equity in the renewable energy industry. These are imperative to ensure workers can gain access to these fields, learn the skills of the trade, and earn wages and benefits that will sustain careers in building and maintaining greener infrastructure.

Justin Walsh is the training director for a local electrical workers union.

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