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Work force readies for wind industry

The program, launched this month by Larkin Enterprises, an electrical contractor and worker placement company in Lincoln, gives the students initial training for jobs in an industry that promises great things, but one many concede is still young and undeveloped. ...Catherine Renault, director of Maine's Office of Innovation, voices caution. She says it's hard to prepare a work force when it's not clear what type of jobs are needed, or when it will be necessary to fill them. "To me it's a balance," she says.

Electricians don't traditionally learn how to manufacture composites and boat builders don't typically climb 200-foot towers while on the job, but for some of the 38 students in a new program to train workers for Maine's burgeoning wind power industry, that's just part of the curriculum.

The program, launched this month by Larkin Enterprises, an electrical contractor and worker placement company in Lincoln, gives the students - the majority of whom are electricians - initial training for jobs in an industry that promises great things, but one many concede is still young and undeveloped. It is one of several training initiatives under way in Maine to develop a wind energy work force, which some fear will outpace available jobs.

But that's not the thinking at Larkin, where Mike Ireland has designed a program that gives electricians three days of introductory composite manufacturing skills at Southern

Maine Community College's Maine Advanced Technology Center in Brunswick. They will then spend five days learning high-altitude tower safety and rope rescue, with the final two days of the training held at First Wind's Stetson Mountain wind farm in Washington County. The training program will "put them higher up on the... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Electricians don't traditionally learn how to manufacture composites and boat builders don't typically climb 200-foot towers while on the job, but for some of the 38 students in a new program to train workers for Maine's burgeoning wind power industry, that's just part of the curriculum.

The program, launched this month by Larkin Enterprises, an electrical contractor and worker placement company in Lincoln, gives the students - the majority of whom are electricians - initial training for jobs in an industry that promises great things, but one many concede is still young and undeveloped. It is one of several training initiatives under way in Maine to develop a wind energy work force, which some fear will outpace available jobs.

But that's not the thinking at Larkin, where Mike Ireland has designed a program that gives electricians three days of introductory composite manufacturing skills at Southern

Maine Community College's Maine Advanced Technology Center in Brunswick. They will then spend five days learning high-altitude tower safety and rope rescue, with the final two days of the training held at First Wind's Stetson Mountain wind farm in Washington County. The training program will "put them higher up on the ladder as far as going out and getting a job," Ireland says. "They're highly specialized in wind energy, so it doesn't limit them to paper mills and that sort of thing."

The training program is funded by roughly $136,000 in federal grant money through Maine's North Star Alliance, which fosters the composite and marine trades industries. It also includes a few employees from First Wind and Lyman Morse. The Thomaston boat builder considers the wind energy industry an opportunity to diversify the markets it serves. "Five years ago, no one on a boat manufacturing floor thought about working 200 feet off the ground," says Paul Williamson, an employee of the Maine Composite Alliance and coordinator of the new Maine Wind Industry Initiative. "But now we're preparing that work force to transfer their very valuable skills to blade repair, blade maintenance and eventually blade construction in the state."

Over the past year, the wind energy industry - with its promise of new jobs during a time of 8% unemployment and the political capital of being a renewable energy source - has become the darling of economic developers and business advocates in the state. But Catherine Renault, director of Maine's Office of Innovation, voices caution. She says it's hard to prepare a work force when it's not clear what type of jobs are needed, or when it will be necessary to fill them. "To me it's a balance," she says. "A lot of people want to rush and train wind turbine technicians right now, but I don't know if we need them yet. The worst thing we can do is train people for jobs that don't exist yet."

What's needed is more hard data about what the industry will require. "We don't have the numbers yet to say we need 200 people trained to do this," she says. "I don't think we're there yet, frankly."

Job counts in the wind No one doubts the wind energy industry will have an impact on Maine's future, but projections about the size of that impact vary widely. Some predict that the wind energy industry could create 18,000 jobs in the state. "On the other hand, you can come up with an argument that it will generate 1,800 jobs," says Williamson. "It's related to how much of the industry supply chain we're able to develop in this state."

Wind farms themselves do not, in the aggregate, provide a large number of jobs. Conventional wisdom says that one technician is necessary for every 10 turbines once the wind farm is up and running.

The job opportunities come from companies that diversify into manufacturing wind turbine blades and those that develop a specialty in the repair and maintenance of wind farms. Williamson says if Maine is able to provide 80% of the manufacturing in state, then it has a very real opportunity to capture 15,000 jobs. "If we're unsuccessful in attracting that, it reduces the number of jobs by 50%," he says.

There are also jobs in the construction of wind farms. Companies like Reed & Reed have taken workers' traditional skills and retooled them for the wind energy industry. "You can do it all with Maine businesses," says Matthew Kearns, First Wind's vice president of business development in New England, adding that First Wind funneled $50 million to more than 130 Maine businesses during the construction of its Stetson wind project. "There's a huge ripple effect from doing just one of these projects."

A year ago, Williamson and the other members of the North Star Alliance weren't even discussing wind energy. Now the majority of his time is consumed by the Maine Wind Industry Initiative, a collaboration among the Maine Composite Alliance, the University of Maine, First Wind, Cianbro and the Maine Port Authority. Its mission is to prepare Maine businesses to compete in the growing wind industry in the northeastern United States.

Recognizing the need for hard employment data, Williamson commissioned two reports in October. The first will survey Europe, which has a much more mature wind energy industry, to discover what type of occupations have been created around the wind industry there and what skills those occupations require. The second study will catalog education and training opportunities throughout Maine geared toward skills useful to the wind energy industry.

Williamson says 80% of the training necessary is already in place, including electrical technician and composite training programs through the community college system. "One of our big concerns is that we do everything we can to leverage off of existing resources rather than have training service providers competing against each other to create new resources," says Williamson, citing Larkin's training, which takes advantage of SMCC's existing advanced composite program and high-altitude training from a private company.

And Williamson is thinking long term. Last May, he helped organize a program to get more Maine high school students interested in composite technology and the wind energy industry. Last year, 20 high school teams competed. This year there are 50 teams and Williamson says there's talk of bringing the competition to a national stage. "If the state of Maine is serious about developing five to eight gigawatts of wind power by 2030 - that's not official, but a target we all talk about - then now is the time to invest and encourage our youth," he says.


Source: http://www.mainebiz.biz/new...

DEC 14 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/23611-work-force-readies-for-wind-industry
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