The demand for turbine technicians in Lethbridge exceeds the available staff

People walk through the wind turbine technician shop at Lethbridge College on March 10, 2023.  The program saw a drop in enrollments that year.  (Ose Irete/CBC - photo credit)

People walk through the wind turbine technician shop at Lethbridge College on March 10, 2023. The program saw a drop in enrollments that year. (Ose Irete/CBC – photo credit)

Renewable energy is playing a growing role in Alberta’s energy sector, but at a school in Lethbridge, instructors say demand for wind turbine operators is growing faster than the available workforce.

CBC previously reported that the province now gets more electricity from wind, solar and hydro than coal, according to data from the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO).

But the labor shortage was one of the issues that engaged people during the recruitment fair at Lethbridge College’s Wind Summit, an event that brought together industry, students and the public.

The college hosts the only wind turbine technician program west of Ontario. In one year, students learn the skills required to maintain turbines. It is mechanics, hydraulics, safety and rescue training all in one.

Ose Irete/CBC

Ose Irete/CBC

“We definitely have what we think is the best training facility in Canada,” says instructor Kelly Norgard.

Norgard says enrollments in Lethbridge College’s trades programs have fallen this year, particularly the wind technician programme, but he is not sure why.

Growing demand for renewable energy

In his role as site manager at Borea Construction – a renewable energy construction company – Shane Cormier has witnessed the increasing demand for renewable energy first hand.

“Wind has always been considered a very expensive form of energy,” he says.

Now, however, advances in technology mean turbines are more efficient, making wind a cheap and profitable source of energy. This, combined with a federal government focus on renewable energy, puts them in a bind.

“We have a lot of projects that are being spent and not a lot of support staff that can do it.”

Ose Irete/CBC

Ose Irete/CBC

Negative perception hurts trades, program developer says

Donna Wesley is a program developer at Careers The Next Generation, a non-profit organization that connects youth in Alberta to opportunities in industry, especially skilled trades.

“There’s a perception, I believe, that this is a misperception, that getting into trading isn’t an education,” Wesley said.

“We need to convey to parents, families, students, teachers and schools the fact that a career is a post-secondary opportunity and that we should be very willing to let our children and our youth take advantage of those opportunities.”

Wesley says many young people don’t even know these jobs exist, especially in an emerging field like renewable energy.

Ose Irete/CBC

Ose Irete/CBC

While southern Alberta leads the way for wind and solar energy due to its high winds and many sunny days, oil and gas take center stage when energy and Alberta appear in the same sentence.

“How do we get this information out to high school kids so they know that renewable energy is a viable option and that Alberta is about more than oil and gas?” Cormier said.

The role of the turbine technician appeals to thrill seekers

The available talents are quickly exhausted.

“I would pretty much guarantee that every one of our graduates will have a job at the end of the day,” Norgard said.

One of those hoping to make an appearance is Phil Walther.

“I grew up in the Lethbridge area. Of course when you drive around here on the highways you see all the wind farms and I’ve always wondered what it would be like to work there.”

Ose Irete/CBC

Ose Irete/CBC

As an avid snowboarder and self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie, Walther was drawn to the opportunity to work at height. ALIS, the Alberta Learning Information Service, lists the average wage for a turbine technician as $45 an hour, and the opportunity to make that kind of money was also enticing.

But the most important thing for him was the opportunity to continue learning. The program prepares graduates for entry into professional life, but companies often train their employees in various specializations.

Programs encourage more engagement

Before the pandemic, Careers The Next Generation only served high school students, now the organization works with people up to 20 years old.

“We’ve found that some of our youngsters, ages 20, 19, 18, have missed out on opportunities that their peers had years before in school because they’re stuck at home,” Wesley said.

In January, Lethbridge College, in partnership with six school districts, launched a dual-credit Intro-to-Trades program that allows students to earn high school and college credits.

“We really encourage people to consider this career and there are many avenues that they can go down,” Norgard said.


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