First Impressions: Fielding The Questions Of Incoming WET Trainees

377

Career-oriented colleges focused on preparing students for wind energy technician careers have not existed for very long. In fact, the public perception of our industry is that wind turbines have only been around for the past few years. Although we in the industry are well aware of the long history that has brought us to this point of monstrous growth worldwide, this dissonance between public perception and reality results in some entertaining, and sometimes very astute, questions from prospective students who tour Ecotech Institute in Aurora, Colorado.
Some of the more common questions include inquiries about technician pay, working conditions, geographic distribution of job opportunities, required skills and background to land a job, and upward career mobility prospects for an entering technician. Unfortunately, nobody can provide fair, concrete answers to such questions. If you ask ten different experienced technicians to answer these questions, you often will get wildly conflicting answers.
Ecotech Institute instructors are subject matter experts in their various renewable energy fields (wind, solar, power utilities, energy efficiency, renewable energy business), so some of the more unusual questions get passed along to the faculty to answer. Some of the more memorable wind turbine questions follow:
“I saw a YouTube video of guys BASE jumping from turbines. Will I get to do that?”
“How often do turbines blow up like the video I’ve seen?”
“How fast do those things have to spin to cool the earth?”
“Do wind turbines rotate the other direction in the Southern Hemisphere?”
“Are the transmissions in wind turbines stick-shift or automatic?”
“Why don’t they install solar panels on the blades and make even more power?”
Answering questions like these without offending prospective students takes tact and skill. We certainly want to foster their sense of curiosity in our industry, but at the same time, we can steer them towards reality with a short discussion of the practical application of wind energy.
For every prospective student who knows very little about wind turbines, we have others who have been watching the development of the industry and, more specifically, the development of wind turbine designs. It is very refreshing to field technical questions that delve into aerodynamics, power electronics, or best practices in O&M and safety. In fact, we occasionally enroll a student who has a background as a U.S. Navy nuclear technician or mechanical engineer who is looking to try something new. One of the more impressive questions follows:
“I’ve read a bit about three-phase induction generators. Are they typically paired with a full-scale frequency convertor, or do they use a 4-quadrant frequency convertor with insulated gate bipolar transistors?”
Admittedly, this question has not come up more than the once… and it’s possible the prospective student was hiding a cue card. However, it demonstrates the wide range in knowledge and background of students enrolling into programs like the ones at Ecotech Institute.
The most common question prospective students ask about wind technician careers is about how much money they will make. The wide range of experience they bring to the program is part of the reason that graduating students cannot be guaranteed a specific starting income. We would love to tell every incoming student that they will be offered $80,000 jobs within a month of graduating, but that would be unrealistic. There are just too many variables to consider, not the least of which may be luck.
Some graduates may be offered travelling positions as turbine commissioners with overtime schedules that can easily help them surpass six figures in their first year. Some graduates will enjoy comparing multiple job offers, a thrill they may never have experienced in their lives until that moment. Yet, many graduates will work hard in their job search to land the job that will merely get their foot in the door. Where they take their career from there will depend on their safety awareness, work ethic, trainability, and to a certain degree, their social skills. Ecotech Institute’s career placement professionals will always be available for support and networking when needed, but most graduates find that with the education they’ve attained and the experience they gain in just a few months on the job, the challenge they face in their career is no longer one of finding work. The challenge instead becomes one of choosing the best option amongst many career path opportunities as recruiters begin contacting them for a change.