Setting the Pace in Energy

2023: IKORCC is about to hit one million work hours in the renewable industry with over 500,000 coming from solar. Solar farms are becoming more popular here in our Midwest states due to the millions of acres of flat farmland, the low cost of grid connection, and the fact that utility-scale solar energy costs less than half that of an efficient natural gas-burning plant (nearly one-third in Indiana!). Not to mention the investment tax credits for solar projects that meet prevailing wage standards and employ a sufficient proportion of qualified apprentices from registered apprenticeship programs thanks to the Biden Administration’s Inflation Reduction Act. As reported in the 2020 magazine, one of our contractors in southern Indiana approached us about their new solar project. We were excited about the opportunity to help meet their workforce needs on a new type of project for our members. Our members completed that project more than 30 days ahead of schedule. That was when we realized solar was going to be a big deal for our council.

We knew this market was going to blow up, and wanted to get ahead of it, starting with establishing renewable energy leads to cover all the counties in the council. The leads began by reviewing our training.

How were we going to prepare IKORCC members for solar projects? We discovered that the installation of solar modules consisted of the three basic tenants of carpentry: plumb, level, and square. Everything we teach in all our training; blueprints, framing, drywall, and scaffolding – is plumb, level, and square.

To launch our new emerging market, we installed rooftop, fixed tilt, and tracking system mockups at every training center. Every tour we did from that point on included education on how our union carpenters build solar.

As more and more of our signatory contractors got into the work, IKORCC members made a name for themselves as the most productive on the job site. Just as we have always done on everything from hospitals to parking garages to stadiums, the Carpenters set the pace on the job.

This new market has not come without its challenges, though. From nonunion companies to other trades challenging the work, we were not going to give up this work. From that very first project in southern Indiana, we were in jurisdictional disputes with other trades over whose work it was. A major mega-wattage project in northern Indiana was falling behind schedule because other crafts performing the piling, racking, and module installation could not supply enough workers. The developer began asking, “Who can finish this job? “A contractor friendly to the Carpenters’ Union was awarded the project, and we were quickly in a new jurisdiction dispute over the work. We got letters of assignment from across the country on ours and other UBC projects. Every contractor and developer was saying the same thing: they are the most productive when carpenters are performing the work.

Less than four years later, we are hitting one million work hours in the renewable industry just this year alone. Using the basic skills taught from day one of our apprenticeship, we have now installed over 600,000 solar piling, and installed over 3.5 million solar modules. With every new project, our carpenters and millwrights prove to every union or nonunion tradesperson that the IKORCC is setting the pace in energy.


This story is from our 2023 magazine, if you’d like to read more on this and other great stories – visit this link.