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New U.S. Institutes Help Tackle Cleantech Workforce Shortage

Training academies are cropping up to steer students and professionals into clean energy industries that lack manpower to match growing opportunities

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

May 16, 2011

"If you look at just wind energy, the install base is getting larger and larger, so more players are coming into the space to do the development and construction work," said Doug Nieb of the Broomfield, Colo.-based . "Everyone in the industry is competing more broadly for qualified talent.

"[The challenge] is finding people who have some experience in the industry. For example, if you're hiring someone to do electrical work, in the past you've had to go out and find someone with an electrical background and train them to do wind or solar."

To tackle the workforce shortage, the wind developer has teamed up with the one-year-old near Denver, which earlier this month unveiled a new $10 million flagship campus that will host up to 1,200 students.

"As graduates become available from this and other institutions, we'll be able to put them directly into our workforce without having to rely on on-site training," Nieb said.

Some 250 students have been enrolled since last July in two-year associate's degree programs for wind and solar energy technology, electrical engineering technology, energy efficiency, environmental technology and general renewable energy training.

Glenn Wilson, the institute's academic dean, said that Ecotech's parent company , which operates private higher education institutions, selected Colorado to host the campus because of its wealth of cleantech companies and top-notch institutions, such as the U.S. Department of Energy's (NREL) in the city of Golden.

Colorado's renewable portfolio standard (RPS), one of the most aggressive in the nation, was also a plus, considering how the mandate has helped lure developers to the Rocky Mountain state. Under the law, utilities are required to get 30 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

"The jobs were there, but the technicians weren't," Wilson said.

 "We're seeing a lot of second-career people and a large group that already have college degrees and want to get into the clean energy field, but are stopped because they don't have any good experience," he said of the institute's students.

The number of cleantech companies in Colorado increased 9.6 percent between 2005 and 2010, compared with a 4.2 percent growth nationally, according to by the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation.

Some 1,600 cleantech companies directly employed about 19,420 people in the state in 2010, including more than a dozen new wind and solar firms that moved to the state last year.

Denmark's Wind System A/S said it would create hundreds of new jobs at its three Colorado wind turbine factories, which already employ 1,000 people.

Wilson said Colorado needs a highly skilled workforce to develop, manufacture and install renewable energy systems to keep cleantech companies in the state.

"If they don't get that here, then [companies] will move to other parts of the country or the world where they can," he said.

He added that within the next few years the Ecotech Institute could expand to three or four sites nationwide.

Nevada Opens Geothermal Academy

Whereas California and Colorado are readying employees for whole new professions, Nevada is looking to recruit new talent and update skills of mature works for its decades-old geothermal industry.

This summer, the will offer its first set of eight weeklong courses on geothermal energy development and utilization at the University of Nevada, Reno.

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Michigan Institute of Aviation and Technology Energy Career Expo

Michigan Institute of Aviation and Technology has a great Power Technician training program. Power Technician career opportunities exist across the country power plants, wind farms, private companies, and more.

MIAT's Houston Campus is hosting an Energy Industry Career Expo on Thursday, May 26, 2011 from 12:30 pm to 8 pm. Visit for more information about the event.

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