The Northwest Renewable Energy Institute’s offsite satellite campus, located on Fruit Valley Road, is Vancouver’s newest training site for wind turbine technicians.
The site, which opened November 2023, is used to teach students the fundamentals of climbing and repairing wind turbines.
Students receive six months of training in the certification program and complete six major phases throughout their training. The new offsite campus focuses on phase one, introduction to wind turbines, as well as phase six, which involves learning proper use of rigging equipment.
The new indoor campus features a 20-foot climbing tower built by ENSA North America, a company focused on industry training. The tower helps students learn how to use advanced safety mechanisms used by professional technicians, including self-redacting devices, robust safety netting, guardrails and safety retract lines. The tower also features a nose cone, which simulates the inside of a wind turbine for technicians in training.
President and CEO of International Air and Hospitality Academy D.J. Schmidt said that the new indoor campus will provide a great experience for students during their training.
“We [have] a tall tower on Mill Plain and Grand [boulevards] on our main campus, and we wanted to move the training indoors,” Schmidt said. “Once we found this space, we bought this new structure, which is a much more realistic simulator… Now we have a [nose cone]. We have a confined space. There’s just a lot more opportunities to do some different training.”
Sam Ray, a Northwest Renewable Energy Institute instructor, said the new tower allows students to learn more than just repairs. They can also focus on safety practices and rescue operations.
“Every piece of the structure is a space that they’re going to experience in the field,” Ray said. “It really gives us a unique situation to be able to practice being stuck in all these different situations for rescue.”
Ray mentioned that the institute is currently seeking certification from Global Wind Organ Organisation, a Danish wind turbine training company, which has slowly set the industry standard around the world. Ray said students who receive this certification would have an easier time finding work outside of the U.S.
The Vancouver-based educational program offers career-service assistance to help students find a job in the industry. Institute staff teach students how to build a resume, prepare for job interviews and follow up with applications. Ray said future career assistance is guaranteed for alumni.
As of 2022, turbine technicians make an average of $57,000 annually. according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ray said the industry is expected to grow 45% between now and 2033 as more wind turbines are established in the U.S.
Zach Mills, a student who began in October, arrived from Michigan to work in the program. Mills worked in retail before seeking a career change and saw the program as an opportunity for a new line of work.
“The school and everything is a great way to enter the field if you haven’t had any prior experience similar to what we’re going into, wind turbine technology,” Mills said. “The grind of retail life was just not for me. I stopped enjoying it. So, after many years, [I] needed a change.”
Including the program’s offered wind turbine and telecom technician certifications earned at the end of the six-month course, students can receive eight certifications useful for wind turbine technicians and related fields.
Mills is currently learning about how wind turbines generate electricity. All instructors currently teaching at the institute worked as technicians in the industry at some point. Mills said their experience in the field has been helpful when passing on industry knowledge.
“I think one of the best things about school is … that teachers have spent time in the field. It’s a great way to learn because obviously they know how it goes,” Mills said. “They know what we’re going into and how we need to learn so we’re successful.”
While some students plan on becoming telecom technicians, Mills and many others are excited to begin working in the wind turbine industry.
“Clean energy, I think it’s a great adventure to make you feel good about the work that you do,” Mills said. “Instead of just selling something or doing something else, it’s just something I have pride in.”
For information about Northwest Renewable Energy Institute and its six-month program, go to nw-rei.com.