Wind turbine technicians get hands-on experience, job interview prep at Vancouver institute

Wind turbine technicians get hands-on experience, job interview prep at Vancouver institute

 10:10 AM PST February 7, 2024

PORTLAND, Ore. — There are at least 73,000 wind turbines across the U.S. alone, with more coming online every month, and the market for tower technicians is growing quickly.   

Turns out, a job dangling in a harness 300 feet in the air servicing all that equipment is providing meaningful security. 

“What really spoke to me about this job, I just have deep-held beliefs around green energy and wanting to work outside being in a field setting … instead of behind a computer all day,” said Jackie Agbay.  

Agbay left her desk job last year, and she isn’t looking back — or down, after getting her training at the Northwest Renewable Energy Institute in Vancouver. 

“The first thing that we take our students through here is learning about the turbines themselves: this is what it does, this is how it works,” explained instructor Tom Bauras. 

Bauras learned his craft at the Northwest Renewable Energy Institute more than a decade ago. Now, he’s teaching the next generation of tower technicians on a brand new 20-foot ModTruss simulated nacelle climbing tower. The actual towers, of course, stand more than 10 times that height.

“So, we introduce them to their harnesses and their different types of fall arrest systems,” Bauras said. “Their lives are in our hands when we’re working with them, so we’ve got to make sure we’re doing everything as safe as possible.”

For about $16,000, students enroll in a 6-month training. It covers all the safety aspects required while working 300 feet off the ground, in tight spaces, with technical knowledge of electric and mechanics. Job interviews are included in the training, according to DJ Schmidt, the institute’s president.

“We have a wind company coming every Friday from now until the end of February to present their company to the next set of graduating students; they’re there to say, come work for us, we need you, and let us interview you,” he said.

“The day I graduated I had a job offer and left about two weeks later to go to training, and I’ve been in the field ever since,” said Agbay.

Demand is high and growing. The U.S. Department of Energy credits wind with more than 120,000 jobs, while the Bureau of Labor Statistics cites 45% growth in turbine technician employment alone (projection 2022-2023).

The average starting salary is $57K a year, with upward mobility and portability. 

“Once they get some experience, they’ll start to specialize in electrical, mechanical. You could become a site supervisor; you could become a trainer … there’s a lot of different avenues you can go,” said Schmidt.

Agbay spent time servicing turbines in four states last year. She’s enjoyed the travel and sightseeing in her downtime.

While on the job, Agbay said that “One thing I’m seeing that I’d love … I am a woman, out here in the field, which has typically been male dominated. But I see more women. Diversity, equity and inclusion are something these companies are talking about, so there really is a place for everybody here.”

Enrollment at Northwest Renewable Energy Institute is 25 per class; the next class graduates on March 1. Many of those soon-to-be graduates are already eyeing jobs with, AvangridMistras, and Invenergy or, like Jackie, Deutsche Windtechnik. A new class starts every other month.

Chris McGinness is a meteorologist and reporter for KGW News. Email him here and reach out on social media: Facebook, Instagram and X.