As a wind energy instructor at Ecotech Institute, I’m envious of my students. They are at an exciting place in their careers, and the wind energy industry is exploding with opportunity worldwide right before their eyes. The technology uptower is changing so rapidly that employers are coming straight to schools like Ecotech Institute in Aurora, Colorado, to hire as many of our students as they can.
After two years of hard work and personal sacrifice, more than 90 percent of Ecotech Institute graduates will go into high-paying jobs in the wind energy industry. Most of them will start off in challenging and exciting positions as wind turbine technicians — the first step in building a career in an industry that has seen phenomenal growth and a diverse range of career paths that continue to grow and evolve.
As an instructor, my charge is to take them from the slightly naive yet motivated renewable energy enthusiasts that they are coming into the program and turn them into highly professional technicians with a deep scientific understanding of turbine systems and the wide range of applicable skills that employers need.
Since July 2010, we have learned what kind of knowledge and skills our industry needs, and we enjoy evolving as a response to the wealth of input provided by site managers, safety managers, graduates working in the turbines, and other industry partners who take a personal level of responsibility in molding our program to reach new heights.
So what is it, specifically, that separates wind school graduates from job applicants who are trying to move into wind energy from other technical fields? In a word — trust.
A wind energy student must be able to trust his or her instructors to guide them to the point of not only being attractive to employers, but also being successful throughout their career. For example, as an instructor, I aim to train my students to smoothly see and follow a path to their second promotion. If I have only helped them get their foot in the door, then I have failed them.
A wind energy instructor must be able to trust that his or her students will go out and make a positive impact on our industry. The instructor must also trust them to take safety seriously, to continuously learn more about turbine reliability, and to respect the need for our employers’ profitability.
At Ecotech Institute, we trust that our relationships with industry experts will net fruitful advice to us as technology advances. We cultivate these relationships to make sure they see the benefit in helping us stay on the cutting edge of wind turbine training.
Wind industry partners trust wind energy instructors to effectively train and mold their future employees to be the technicians that are needed on their wind farms. As students approach graduation, they transition into being an asset offered to the job market. At Ecotech Institute, we often get positive feedback in this regard as our students have multiple job offers from which to choose.
We as instructors trust industry partners to take on the responsibility of continuously training the students that they hire. We provide our industry partners with technicians who have succeeded in learning the physics, mechanics, electrical, hydraulics, schematics, and control logic of a wind turbine. Graduates are also proficient with Microsoft Office applications and can learn proprietary SCADA software quickly and efficiently as they have used SCADA simulators in the classroom. After the graduates have completed their training program and they have been hired, it is the employer’s responsibility to train them on the site’s specific turbine platforms. Most importantly, employers are trusted to provide the equipment and continued training needed to keep graduates safe.
There have been quite a few training programs popping up around the nation that train entry-level technicians to get their foot in the door with their first job. However, preparing students for successful careers in the wind energy industry with a wide range of options is not about stocking an impressive inventory of large components. It is crucial to have a faculty that is diverse in their wind energy experience so they can offer students the chance to a wide spectrum of career opportunities.
When prospective students are researching colleges for wind energy careers, they should inquire on the background of the instructors. While the majority of these educators’ experiences are from uptower maintenance and troubleshooting, experience outside of the typical turbine technician realm is crucial. Otherwise, graduates risk suffering from tunnel vision and a general lack of how our industry works outside of those two key areas.
Wind technicians with tunnel vision often experience early burn out. Without a larger understanding of our industry, climbing turbines can seem like just a job rather than the right step in a promising career. If college program directors wish to serve the long-term needs of their students and the industry, they must hire faculty who bring this level of diversity and provide opportunities for instructors to gain additional industry training that they can then pass on to their students.
Again, I am envious of my students. The opportunities laid out before our future wind energy technicians are unlike any the industry has seen before. We trust that this growth will continue simply because market pressures support this belief. As long as wind energy remains cheaper than the fluctuating costs of coal and natural gas, as long as there is a possibility of a carbon tax looming on America’s energy future, and as long as data continue to support the ever-strengthening understanding of the link between carbon dioxide and global climate change, the landscape will continue to remain wide open for wind energy to gain more of the diversified energy portfolio of our nation and world. This is not a trust based on assumptions. This is a trust based on fact and careful analysis. It is this trust that keeps wind energy technology instructors motivated to train ambitious people who are committed to a better world and can build rewarding careers in our industry.