As energy companies throughout the country make efforts to increase their pipeline for young diverse candidates, Chicagoland key energy stakeholders successfully piloted perhaps the nation’s first urban citywide Chicago Youth Energy Conference (CYEC) on April 28, 2017.

Do you remember being imprisoned every day during high school with the drone of an adult relentlessly lecturing you on the joys of the most mind-numbing topic on earth (or perhaps you have been in a recent meeting that garnered the same type of experience)? The President of Legacy Nexus Foundation and Chicago native, Charles Wilson, clearly envisioned something different when designing this event rather than those unpleasant memories of boredom.

Determined to not just talk at the youth but talk to them, video presentations provided by Congressman Bobby Rush and the 1st Congressional District, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission were complemented with live presentations conducted by industry leaders such as:

  • Illinois Commerce Commission – Commissioner John Rosales and Bureau Chief Danisha Hall
  • Nicor Director of Customer Care Centers and American Association of Blacks in Energy President- Marla Jarrett
  • Hightowers Petroleum Company President – Steve Hightower
  • ComEd Senior Training Specialist – Kathy Thigpen
  • U.S. Navy
  • City Colleges of Chicago Dawson Technical Institute Associate Dean of Construction – Lucretzia Jamison

In addition, what youth event would be complete without a live DJ, catered lunch, and time to mix and mingle with both professionals and peers who shared an interest in energy?

The day’s agenda was packed and key energy industry areas were covered such as the:

  • myriad of pathways, career opportunities and supports available
  • potential lucrative earnings and benefits
  • pre-employment processes and criteria for entry level positions
  • apprenticeship opportunities within utility companies
  • professional networking tools (specifically

Students also walked away with a USB flash drive stocked with information to help develop strong résumés as practical tools they can begin using immediately.

Was deviating away from the typical cookie-cutter format for lecturing to make the event engaging and stimulating for this future workforce pool a success? Charles Wilson believes he has proof that the industry sees the benefit:

“We’ve already been requested to do another event within Chicago Public Schools in October of this year and to bring this conference to a major utility’s footprint within 7 states. We’re just getting started and the real work begins as we now shift to train the students in the classroom on the CAST exam and behavior-based interviewing techniques.”

Over 20 organizations contributed resources to make this event a success with schools doing their part as well. Principal Beulah McLoyd of the Chicago Public Schools new Walter H. Dyett High School for the Arts opened the school’s doors to host this event that included participants from high schools throughout the city and suburbs – in alignment with her 2015 promises to motivate students’ interest in math and science. Twelve other schools recruited students and provided chaperones as well.

Industry organizations vesting themselves in the success of the event by providing sponsorship included: People’s Gas, Nicor, FSIC-CDFI American Innovation & Opportunity Fund, PMI Energy Solutions, Hightowers Petroleum Company, ComEd, Trice Construction, S.E.E.L, LLC, and the US Department of Energy-Minorities in Energy. Additionally, although presenters and many of the sponsors mentioned above had attendees available to network with the youth, Nisource and Aerostar also provided professional attendees for the event.

Heather Holland, presenter and Managing Principal of a minority and woman-owned consulting firm Holland Energy Consulting said, “The Chicago Youth Energy Conference was a great example of partnerships (business, school/academia, entrepreneurs and community) working together to increase awareness and education of the energy industry.”

The Executive Director of the Legacy Nexus Foundation, Shané Tate, was committed to not simply exposing students to pathways but to also offering assistance with next steps. Future opportunities offered to participants included the:

  • Foundation’s free six week Legacy Energy Academy Pre-Employment Training Series this spring. This program will be offered for free to select conference applicants as a result of the sponsorships and donations received for the Chicago Youth Energy Conference.
  • Energy/stem related summer and after-school enrichment programs offered by CYEC sponsors like ComEd and companies like Aerostar.

The tie between the industry and our schools is symbiotic. Chicago’s energy industry set an excellent example for other industries seeking a diverse youth workforce pipeline to provide targeted opportunities for both career exposure and navigation.

Photos courtesy of Easley Blessed Photography & Videography.

Written By: Maji Tharpe

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