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Training the Wind workforce of tomorrow

image credit: Centura college
Trent Nylander's picture
Wind Program Coordinator, Centura College

Residential electrician which transitioned into sales and divisional management spanning a 20-year career. Head Chair for the Chamber of Commerce to refine my public speaking and marketing...

  • Member since 2022
  • 8 items added with 776 views
  • Dec 6, 2022
  • 179 views

I have always had a passion for the wind industry, along with the green industry revolution. As an electrician apprentice out of high school I thought my career path was set for life. The plan was to work my way up to a Journeyman then perhaps work on my master's certification. Wife, kids, house, cars, all make for the original American dream. And yet the events of 9/11 shook this country to its core, like many others my life was no exception. I suddenly found myself unemployed, bankrupt, divorced and desperate to find some purpose in my life. It was time to reset my life and search out a new existence and see what I could accomplish with my existing skill set. I took whatever I could to keep the lights on, delivery driver, phone and counter sales. I kept pushing myself, making assistant manager, manager, divisional manager. I had found joy in helping and training people to understand the industry.  Today I share and have that same passion for teaching wind technology as I did for the electrical industry. 

These days I get to share my experiences with the youth of today that are training to enter the wind industry of tomorrow. My 10+ years in the wind industry and my years as an electrician has allowed me to fulfill my passion for teaching and knowledge again. I have always taken my leadership roles with purpose and intent to obtain additional knowledge and to question the unknown.  To search out those answers for myself and have the recall when called upon to answer. I often quote Einstein's " If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough" simply stated. As a Wind Program Coordinator and Instructor, I have seen firsthand the power and value of knowledge. "When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better" by Paulo Coelho. This is what I try to instill into my students and to see them not only become better technicians, but better people in the process.  

Where is this workforce coming from to fill the thousands of Green Collar positions available in the wind industry? The majority of the public schools and 4-year colleges are excited to be training the engineers involved in the industries. But these "Green" blue collared workers are the backbone of the industry, where and who is training this fleet of technician. Unfortunately, this is an ongoing dilemma left to the private sector of private schools and colleges. Several of these colleges have tried and failed due to corporate oversight, accreditation, budget constraints, and the back and forth of buying and selling of these institutions. These programs only exist in the private colleges because of the potential profits to be made and public interest in the green energy fields such as wind, solar, thermal and hydro power. 

Getting into the wind industry isn't as easy as most might think these days with the number of positions piling up every day. One way into the industry is to have professional trade skills and knowledge, such as an electrician. You would still need to go through additional training to further your skills in hydraulics and mechanical aptitude. Not to mention the hours required in the climb and rescue certification you will need to obtain, and the required certifications needed just to apply. Just the climbing or SPRAT certification can run $1500-$2300 for a 40-hour certification. Now you have to find a company that is willing to take a chance on you and that your background history is extremely clean, as the industry rarely hires those with criminal backgrounds.  

The most common route for getting into the wind industry is through completion of a secondary for-profit college program. The accreditation process for these programs are extensive in nature and have strict guidelines to follow. The curriculum and programs must first be approved by the accreditation body. This includes having a well-trained educational staff with the required certificates needed to instruct the course and a minimum of 3 years of field experience as well. Other requirements are regular (PAC) Program Advisory Committee meetings and quarterly professional development requirements to name a few. Due to this in nature and the corporate structure model most of these program flourish at first and fail to meet corporate or accreditation demands and close the doors. 

Until we can establish a non-profit training center without the accreditation restraints and the need for profiteering, we will continue to see these training college program disappear. This is a huge problem in the industry, and we are seeing more accidents from the less educated and unexperienced technicians in the field. What is needed to fill all these skilled positions is a Non-profit college sized campus centralized in the United Stated. Providing training for the energy sectors, wind, solar, electrical, geothermal and other new energy technologies. With onsite offices supporting both sides of the political isles. Offices for Veteran Affairs, Student loans, job placement, and yes union representation as well. We may never achieve my training campus utopia, but we need to at least take a look at this shortage of skilled labor and confront the challenges presented.  

 

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Trent Nylander's picture
Trent Nylander on Dec 6, 2022

It's is so true and sad at the same time about the for profit schools and training. As you know I was a victim of school closure. Almost stopped me from getting in the industry. Fortunately, there was a blades and nacelles factory near by. 30 mills drive each way from home but was able to get my foot in the door in blades. Had I stayed in production I would have moved to nacelles but then a blade repair lead brought me on with them and been with that ever since. Been in the field little over 2 years now with another 1.5 years at the factory. Trying to work my way up through the ranks so I don't have to travel as much but I like the direction I went with this. Repairs is booming. We need to unionize imo, I do see people getting taken advantage of all over the place out here. Some companies are better than others though, of course.

Trent Nylander's picture
Trent Nylander on Dec 6, 2022

Great point Paige, glad to see you made it into the industry. Things have changed greatly in the past few years with the subcontractor markets filling the employment gaps. And as you attested too, a lot of people are being taken advantage of in all the green industries. Subcontractors are making anywhere from $160 to $220 an hour a head to put boots in the field. These contracts they are offering pay up to $35 an hour if you're lucky. Did you know you have the right to negotiate the contracts as a 1099 employee? GWA-Green Workers Alliance is a group that is trying to stand up for these workers and get justified pay from these sub-contracting companies. If I have more qualifications for the job, shouldn't I get a better rate of pay than Bob the Machinist put on my crew? GWA is not a union but an employee advocacy group working on behalf of all the green energy industries. Working with politicians, leader, sub-contractors and employers to get safe working conditions for the American worker. Check out the site and see for yourself. GWA also has a gear swap Facebook page for technicians to trade gear and ideas. Pass this on to those in the industry and follow me on Facebook at Wind Tower Hounds Network.

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Thank Trent for the Post!
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