ComEd and the City Colleges of Chicago have announced the development of an innovative training program that will open the doors to a career as a ComEd overhead lineman to hundreds of Chicago area residents, while helping the utility replace retiring employees.

"Overhead and underground electricians are ComEd’s front line in ensuring reliable service," said ComEd Chairman and CEO Frank M. Clark. "Through this partnership with the City Colleges of Chicago, we are creatively addressing the workforce challenge caused by many of our employees reaching retirement age, and providing Chicagoans with the opportunity to earn competitive wages at one of the city’s largest employers. This program has the added benefit of ensuring our employee base comes from the communities we serve."

About 17 percent of ComEd’s craft employees - those who build and maintain the electric infrastructure - will be eligible for retirement within the next five years. During this period, the company expects to replace approximately 300 field personnel with the new line school’s graduates, recruits from other line schools and internal candidates.

"While many corporations throughout the Midwest are downsizing, the City Colleges partnership with ComEd will offer more minority candidates greater opportunities for employment at competitive salaries," said Wayne Watson, chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago.

ComEd provided an initial outlay of $250,000 in in-kind donations of labor and materials, and will donate an additional $75,000 per year over the next three years to the program.

The first Overhead Electrician Line Worker Program (OELW) class began Oct. 23 at Dawson Technical Institute, a branch of Kennedy-King College. Combining classroom and outdoor instruction, students take classes in math and science and receive physical training while learning the essentials of overhead line work safety standards, electrical pole climbing, and overhead power line construction and maintenance. Students will graduate with an advanced certificate and be ready for hire at ComEd or other utilities. In July 2007, program graduates will receive a certificate of completion from the City Colleges, and 35 hours of college credit.

Applications for admission for the next session, which begins Jan. 16, 2007, are being accepted through Dec. 27. Those interested in applying should call the Dawson Technical Institute Admissions Office at (773) 451-2100. Tuition and fees are approximately $5,500 for the 10-month program. Financial aid is available through the City Colleges’ Office of Financial Aid. Applicants to the OELW program are tested on basic skills, and evaluated for climbing proficiency, strength and stamina. Anyone 18 years of age or older with a high school diploma or GED is eligible for admission.

In addition to ComEd, implications of increasing employees reaching retirement age is presenting a challenge for the utility industry nationwide. Utilities in other states including Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have successfully created similar partnerships with community colleges to create tracks for future linemen.

The OELW training site mirrors ComEd’s existing line schools in Lombard and Joliet. Development of OELW school at Dawson Technical Institute has involved the installation of 25, 40-foot high climbing poles at the Institute’s parking lot at 39th and State Street in Chicago. Additionally, the program utilizes Dawson’s classrooms, laboratories and fitness center.

To recruit students to the OELW program, ComEd and City College’s are working with local community-based organizations including Hispanic American Construction Industry Association and United Services of Chicago.