WIND TECH JOB TRAINING BOOSTS LOCAL COLLEGES
Wind turbines are being installed in the U.S. so fast the supply of maintenance/repair personnel can’t keep up with demand. Community colleges that prepare students to do the work are fending off companies who want to hire the students out of the classrooms.
Christine Real de Azua, spokeswoman, American Wind Energy Association: "You're looking at several hundred jobs in just one year…These people need to come with training."
A community college in Iowa, where wind energy is abundant and the industry is booming, has grown its program from 15 students to 90 students and may be just getting started. Coursework covers a range of material (ex: electrical fundamentals, hydraulic systems, computer networking). Graduates are getting multiple job offers.
Al Zeitz, instructor for wind turbine maintenance/repair technicians, Iowa Lakes Community College: "Employers are coming to us saying, 'We want to hire 50 people this summer. We want to hire 100 people this summer…It's definitely a big challenge for the industry right now."
The American Association of Community Colleges does not have a precise count on the number of campuses with wind tech programs but considers them a perfect fit.
Norma Kent, spokeswoman, American Association of Community Colleges: "Typically we're a bit more flexible in bringing on a new program…There's perhaps less bureaucracy. Community colleges are known for responding to current needs in their community, or current opportunities in their communities. If there's a need out there, they're probably going to be the first to recognize it."
Dwaine Higgins, graduate, Iowa Lakes program: "The job outlook in the wind industry is virtually unlimited…"
There are unique aspects to being a wind turbine technician. Higgins: "You never know what you may have to deal with…When you are 300 feet in the air, it is not always easy to get a hand from another person."
It's lonely at the top. (click to enlarge)
Wind a new opportunity for community colleges
Blake Nicholson, June 23, 2008 (AP via Chicago Tribune)
The American Association of Community Colleges; Wind turbine maintenance/repair technicians; Al Zeitz, instructor for wind turbine maintenance/repair technicians, Iowa Lakes Community College; Dwaine Higgins, graduate, Iowa Lakes program
Demand for wind turbine maintenance/repair technicians is driving the development of training programs at community colleges across the U.S., a benefit to the wind industry and the colleges.
New jobs and new money in every sector of the U.S. wind industry. (click to enlarge)
- 2007: 3,200 turbines installed.
- 2008: Technician job demand growing daily.
- U.S.: 25,000 turbines installed, requiring approximately 2,500 2-person technician teams.
- Iowa Lakes Community College has 5 campuses in Estherville, Iowa, and associated communities.
- There are wind tech programs at community colleges in Oregon, Minnesota, New Mexico, Wyoming, Kansas and other states.
- A 2-person maintenance/repair technician team is required for about every 10 wind turbines. At the current rate of installation, a new maintenance/repair technician team is needed every day.
- Zeitz was hired away from GE Energy, the U.S. biggest producer of wind turbines, to help Iowa Lakes Community College install wind energy. He created the wind tech training program which now has 5 staff positions, has grown from 2 classrooms to 6 classrooms and 15 students to 90 students.
- Zeitz’ students often get 3 or 4 job offers.
- FPL Energy has a field staff of 500 to service its 7,600 turbines in 16 states. Its technicians get starting salaries between $35,000 and $40,000/year.
From the American Wind Energy Association (click to enlarge)
- Christine Real de Azua, spokeswoman, American Wind Energy Association: "The demand (for wind techs) is such that some (colleges) have been trying to keep companies away from the program because they want everybody to graduate first…In some cases, students are being picked up after only a couple of months."
- Al Zeitz, instructor for wind turbine maintenance/repair technicians, Iowa Lakes Community College: "It's a fairly rigorous program, and there are some students who don't make it through…"
- Steve Stengel, spokesman, FPL Energy: "These are good-paying jobs with a lot of upside potential…It is in our best interest to make sure that when those students leave that program, they are as well-trained as they can possibly be…"