Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald, Chancellor Cheryl Hyman of City Colleges of Chicago (CCC), Peoples Gas President John Kleczynski, and Business Manager of Utility Workers Union of America Local 18007 (UWUA) Richard Passarelli to announce a five-year extension of the Utility Workers Military Assistance Program, which will train an additional 250 veterans. This seven-month classroom, internship and mentorship program has already prepared over 100 military veterans for careers in the natural gas industry within Chicago whose focus will be to upgrade and modernize Chicago’s natural gas system.
“The City of Chicago is committed to ensuring that those who have made the sacrifice to serve our country are welcomed home with open arms,” said Mayor Emanuel. “The extension of the Utility Workers Military Assistance Program will help more veterans transition into a new career with the necessary resources and support. Expanding career opportunities and other initiatives for our veterans will help them continue their success here at home.”
“Veterans make great employees. They possess leadership skills, team-building skills, and discipline. Those traits don’t end when they take off the uniform; they transfer into the workplace and help businesses grow and succeed.” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald. “I’m pleased to come to Chicago to see first-hand what collaboration between employers, unions and local government can do to provide job opportunities to the men and women who have served our nation in uniform.”
The seven-month program, launched in April 2012, is facilitated through Kennedy-King College’s Dawson Technical Institute in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. Students take general education and core courses for six months, with a focus on the safe construction and operation of natural gas distribution systems. Participants who complete the training program receive a Certificate of Completion and 52 units of college credit towards their Associate degree.
Following the completion of the classroom program, students immediately transition into a one-month, on-the-job, paid internship with Peoples Gas providing real-world application of the skills they have learned. Over 100 program graduates have been hired as Peoples Gas employees with a typical starting wage at nearly $23 per hour.
“The program continues to deliver highly skilled candidates at a time when our business is focusing on modernizing Chicago’s natural gas infrastructure and delivering safe and reliable service to our customers,” said Peoples Gas President, John Kleczynski. “I am pleased we are able to extend this program and attract more talented veterans to join our workforce.”
The program is supported by a variety of funding sources, including Peoples Gas, UWUA Power for America Training Trust Fund, the Workforce Investment Act, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and stipend support from the Department of Veterans Affairs as needed.
“The Utility Workers Union of America proudly unveils the expansion of the Utility Workers Military Assistance Program which is administered by the UWUA's Power for America Training Trust Fund, which connects workers with the highest quality training available to meet the needs of industry and the global marketplace,” said Local 18007 Business Manager UWUA National Executive Board member and UWUA Veterans, Chairman Richard Passarelli. “The program is a national training-to-placement model that will assist those who have honorably served their country in transitioning their military occupational skills into gainful career opportunities in the gas sector.”
Mayor Emanuel and the City of Chicago are dedicated to assisting veterans with access to resources and support for a successful transition at home. In 2012, Mayor Emanuel launched the Returning Veterans Initiative to find employment for returning veterans and help them find resources that are designed to assist their transition. To help transition job-ready veterans into the workforce, the City opened a New Veterans Resource Center, specifically designed for career assistance, and a new Veterans Resource Office.
"The UWMAP program is just one example of City Colleges' efforts to help our servicemen and women reach their goals and move on to further college and a career in an in-demand field," said Cheryl Hyman, chancellor, City Colleges of Chicago. "Testament to this commitment are the many supports we have put in place, including a veteran center at every City College, and the results we have seen, with the number of veterans completing a degree at City Colleges increasing 16 percent in the last year and student veteran enrollment up more than 5 percent. "
The Chicago Federation of Labor Workers Assistance Committee administers the Workforce Investment Act funding for the program, ensuring the veterans receive this high-demand training. Through the CFL-WAC’s Dislocated Worker program, funding is provided to fully cover their tuition and other class expenses. In addition, they receive access to housing resources, transportation assistance, and health and childcare services.
“Since the Chicago Federation of Labor Workers Assistance Committee began case managing the veterans in March 2014, we have streamlined the application and enrollment process,” said Bob Reiter, Secretary-Treasurer for the Chicago Federation of Labor. “In addition to the financial resources, we maintain consistent contact with these students to provide a support structure as they make their way through the program. Since March, 64 veterans have entered the program; 17 are working for Peoples Gas and 43 are on track to the complete training. Our job is to provide these men and women with everything they could possibly need to ensure they are able to complete the training.”
In the same year, Mayor Emanuel and Chancellor Cheryl Hyman also launched the Service to Success Initiative at CCC to provide returning veterans with the support and education necessary to succeed at home. As a result of this initiative, CCC now offers a dedicated Veterans Service Center and a full-time Veterans Service Specialist at each of the seven colleges, credit for prior military training.
Last fall, Mayor Emanuel announced a partnership to eradicate homelessness among veterans in Chicago by the end of 2015. In addition to funding from the federal government, the City’s investment of more than $800,000 will support three dozen permanent supportive housing units, social service case management services to match individuals with the right housing options, and rapid rehousing support. This initiative will assist more than 700 homeless veterans in Chicago and ensure that no one who has fought to defend their country struggles to find a home.