Imagine being harnessed 80 meters above the ground, sitting atop a glistening white turbo structure; the wind whistling past your ears represents enough energy to power over 2000 homes and it's your responsibility to farm it. This clean, renewable energy source is helping to reduce the world's carbon footprint and is paving a sounder, more sustainable road to the future. Where this adrenaline rush and hippie idealism collide is just a day in the life of a wind turbine technician, and if you think it takes years of university academia, or a small fortune, to achieve these heights, you'll be pleasantly surprised.
In recent years, many different kinds of green technology have helped us progress towards a more eco-friendly lifestyle, and that increase has meant more career opportunities within these green sectors. Wind turbines, which use wind currents to generate electricity, are a prime example of this job-creating, planet-saving tech boom. One structure alone is able to generate as much as three megawatts of power, and wind farms are already key energy producers in Germany, Spain, California, and right here at home.
You might think that the world of wind turbine technology is a little too obscure, or that this niche market is still premature. On the contrary: global wind power capacity grew by 31 percent in 2009 alone, and wind technology employs more than half a million people worldwide! Here in Canada, wind turbine programs are springing up in direct response to the growing demand for technicians in the field, explains Howard Meyer, dean of admissions for Northern Lights College's (NLC) wind turbine technician program in British Columbia. Five schools in our beautiful country (Lethbridge College, Northern Lights College, St Lawrence College, Holland College, and Assiniboine Community College) teach BZEE certification (Renewable Energy Training Centre e.V.), the internationally recognized standard for wind turbine technical skill. Unlike other certificate programs, BZEE imparts expertise specific to turbine technology.
And this is precisely what employers are looking for in applicants, explains John Vemeer, Master Electrician and course developer for the wind turbine program at Lethbridge College in northern Alberta. In fact, Canadian companies come straight to these programs looking for future employees. Three quarters of our graduating class have already been recruited [to one company], says Vemeer, and there are still dozens of other companies, he explains, that actively recruit his students.
There are lots of opportunities with existing companies, and new jobs are born every day in this burgeoning industry. In 2009, recalls Meyer, AltaGas [a wind turbine distributor in Canada] erected a farm in British Columbia's Bear Park, consisting of 34 wind turbines. It was obviously going to require maintenance, he explains, prompting NLC to initiate their certification program.
Canadian college students haven't missed this trend. Soon to be graduate Jason Seelmann, a full-time student at Lethbridge College and aspiring wind turbine technician, is also very excited by the novel energy sector. Renewable energy is a relatively new industry in Alberta, but it's thriving. And most importantly, he says, I am part of the cleaner and more sustainable way of providing for the world.
In addition to high-tech training, programs offer basic safety and confined space education, to help students cope with the unconventional office space. There's a lot going on up in the turbines says Nathan Luffman, a second year student in St Lawrence's wind turbine technician program. You climb inside with a ladder and they are narrow, so it get's pretty crammed inside those nacelles; it's like going through a vertical tunnel. Although the safety course does not ease everybody's anxieties, Luffman insists the content is both necessary and beneficial. We had to take a one day crash course, all about safety training in confined spaces, and then we got certified to work in those environments. It definitely put some fears to rest, because students understand the dangers of the environment and how to deal with it. But judging from the size of those towers, the risk is a big part of the reward in this career.
Traditionally, being a member of the engineering world has required at least one university degree. The industry professionals racing to design the latest and greatest in wind turbine technology, for example, have likely attended four years of undergraduate studies followed by another four years for a Masters. While these persistent souls have then earned the title of ÔÇÿexpert' in their field, the economic investment (upwards of $60,000 in tuition and books) in combination with the time investment required to get there, is just not feasible for many prospective students. But with Canadian colleges stepping up to meet demand with shorter, more affordable programs that stress hands-on learning, there's never been a better time to get in on the new green economy, and do a little world-saving for yourself. jp