What Are the Steps to Becoming a Wind Turbine Technician?
Wind turbine technicians may obtain entry-level positions without prior training, but they are the exception rather than the rule. The technology and safety procedures mean that nearly all windtechs have served in an apprenticeship or attended school. Four of the common steps to becoming a wind technology technician (and average completion time for each) are detailed below.
Step 1: Obtain a high school diploma or GED (four years).
High school students aspiring to begin windtech careers are encouraged to complete at least one year of algebra as well as courses in computers, electronics, and science. Woodshop, metalworking, or other classes that emphasize mechanical skills are recommended.
Involvement in after-school sports and taking extra physical education classes can help develop the physical stamina required of wind turbine technicians. Volunteer or job shadowing working opportunities with electricians can help develop the electrical skills needed for this career. Students are encouraged to keep their grades as high as possible to gain entry into a reputable trade school or community college educational program.
Step 2: Become an apprentice or attend formal classes (several months to several years).
Apprenticeship applicants must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) requires approved apprenticeship programs to be: “high-quality apprenticeship programs, wherein an individual obtains workplace-relevant knowledge and progressively-advancing skills, that include a paid-work component and an educational or instructional component, and that result in an industry-recognized credential.”
Entering a location in the Apprenticeship Finder Tool can help individuals find companies in their area that sponsor apprentices.
For those seeking a technical certificate or community college route, these options typically take one to two years to complete. Graduates may earn a certificate of completion or an associate in applied science (AAS) degree. The U.S. Department of Energy maintains a list of wind energy education and training programs which are searchable by state and type of institution.
Common courses for wind technology educational programs include subjects such as aerodynamic theory, technical math, design principles, environmental concerns, instrumentation, control systems, electronics, and hydraulics. Every student learns job safety procedures as well. The time to complete varies by student and school, with some programs taking as little as nine months.
An example of a two-year associate’s degree program is the energy systems technology program at Walla Walla Community College in Walla, Walla, Washington. Students in this program complete a one-year electrical core course sequence and then have the opportunity to specialize in up to five concentration areas: mechanical electrical technology, industrial mechanics, precision agriculture, and renewable energy. Students must earn a letter grade of “C” or higher in their courses to maintain good academic standing in this program.
Students can also obtain professional certificates in wind technology within a few months or one academic year. Although these programs typically offer less instruction and hands-on experience compared to two-year degree programs, they are an ideal option for those who want to explore the career field without committing to a two-year program.
Colby Community College in Colby, Kansas offers two professionals certificate programs: a wind technical certificate (37 hours) and a wind certificate of completion (12 hours)—both of which can be completed online. This program features weekend intensive courses every eight weeks to give students hands-on training with real wind technology. The certificate curriculum includes courses in energy efficiency and small wind turbines and requires a for-credit internship to successfully complete the program.
Another learning option is vendor-sponsored training in installing, maintaining, and repairing proprietary wind technology equipment. Completion time can range from a one-day to several months.
An example of a vendor-sponsored program is the wind turbine technology course offered by DVNGL. This three-day course is designed for a broad range of professionals of any discipline entering the industry and seeking specific skills in wind turbine technology such as project managers, developers, civil and structural designers, and turbine designers and investors. The training takes place in Bristol, United Kingdom, and the early registration fee is €1,550.
Step 3: Acquire an advanced degree or certification (optional, several months to several years).
Wind turbine technicians need a variety of skills to progress beyond entry-level jobs. Students who obtain advanced degrees in subjects such as engineering, design, renewable energy and sustainability, and wind farm development will find their skills in demand. Technicians can also obtain certifications of additional training and abilities through industry associations. The Global Wind Organisation (GWO) certifies training providers. Following is a list of GWO-certified programs:
- ENSA North America, Inc. (ENSA) is certified by the GWO to provide working-at-height training. Based out of Mukwonago, Wisconsin, students learn about fall risks and prevention, how to use rescue equipment, personal protective equipment, and fall rescue equipment. Graduates receive safe access and rescue certification. The medic first aid and trauma-at-height certifications teach students how to assess emergency situations and take appropriate actions. Since a wind turbine nacelle is a small space filled with equipment, students who are confined space entry and rescue certified are capable of handling emergencies in the nacelle.
- High Plains Technology Center is located in Woodward, Oklahoma, in the middle of America’s wind corridor. The first and only GWO-certified provider in Oklahoma, this program features a complete range of height safety and access and rescue training for wind technology technicians and other related occupations in utilities, construction, manufacturing, and emergency services. The Wind Tech I Training program is designed for new hires and teaches modules focused on wind energy safety, AC/DC electricity, mechanical drive systems, hydraulics/pneumatics, and more. This course is Pell Grant-eligible for qualified applicants and is offered twice each year to classes of 12 students.
- HYTORC is a global vendor of industrial bolting systems with corporate headquarters in Mahwah, New Jersey. They offer courses in safe bolting practices and principles. They teach students how to use tools and safe procedures for connecting components under high pressure in extreme conditions, including when hazardous materials are present. Their courses are approved by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).
- The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has its headquarter office in Quincy, Massachusetts and offers a two-day classroom training course in electrical safety in the workplace (NFPA 70E). Students learn safe work practices to avoid electrical injuries such as shock, arc flash or blast, and electrocution. Coursework includes training for working with electrical distribution systems and (de-)energizing power circuits. Students receive a certificate of educational achievement at completion.
- The OSHA 10-Hour Construction Training Program is designed to teach entry-level construction workers how to recognize and prevent safety hazards at a construction site. This online course is divided into eight modules and teaches students to recognize hazardous materials or situations and how to communicate the information to others. They also learn safety procedures when working on or around cranes, rigging, scaffolds, and ladders. Additional lessons teach how to use personal protective equipment, how to protect oneself from falling, and extrication procedures in the event technicians are “struck by” or “caught in between.” Technicians also learn how to safely use hand and power tools. Their knowledge is tested throughout the program, and they must pass a final exam with 70 percent accuracy. Students are given six months to complete the course from the time they begin. Graduates receive a certificate of completion and a DOL wallet card.
- The American Red Cross provides the mandatory first aid and CPR certifications. Training is offered throughout the United States and both courses are OSHA compliant. Students may earn continuing education credits (CEUs) in preparedness and health and safety services courses and seek specializations in wilderness and remote first aid.
Step 4: Obtain licensing (timeline varies).
Certifications and licenses are not the same. Employers require all windtechs to have a valid driver’s license as job sites are often in remote areas. A self-employed technician is considered a contractor. Most states and municipalities require contractors to be licensed. Wind turbine technicians may be employed by public utilities and other power-generating companies who obtain all licenses and permits. Otherwise, all windtechs are advised to reach out to their local government offices to ensure they have all necessary credentialing prior to beginning work.