Some education innovation is blowing into Martinsville.
New College Institute will be the host institution of the new Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance, and by next year, the school will offer two classes to train wind-energy technicians.
The Alliance is made up of NCI, Centura College and the Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy. Centura College has seven education centers across eastern Virginia, and the Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy is the largest training center for Coast Guard certifications on the East Coast.
The Alliance will offer courses certified by the Global Wind Organization and National Center for Construction, Education, and Research wind technician training to onshore and offshore wind projects to Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic region.
Those classes and certifications will be critical to the operations and maintenance of wind projects, Gov. Ralph Northam said during an address to the 2020 Offshore WINDPOWER Virtual Summit, hosted by the American Wind Energy Association.
“This has been an endeavor that we’ve been working on with NCI for close to a year,” NCI Interim Executive Director Karen Jackson said. “Obviously the commonwealth is investing a lot in wind energy [through] windfarms.”
“Building a strong wind energy workforce will give the Commonwealth a significant competitive advantage in attracting onshore and offshore wind projects,” Northam said in his address, according to a press release. “There is currently massive potential for offshore wind up and down the East Coast, and we look forward to working with our partners across Virginia and in neighboring states to grow this industry and reap the tremendous economic benefits for our communities, especially those that have been historically disadvantaged.”
More and more consumers and companies want renewable energy, such as from wind turbines and solar panels, Jackson said, and NCI is on top of that demand.
NCI has made the capital investment, purchased equipment and signed a contract “helping guide us through the process,” she said. “It’s very lengthy, very complicated,” dealing with policy and procedures.
The first two classes will be offered in the first quarter of 2021, she said. They would be basic safety training and basic technician training, the “most basic classes anybody” in the field would be required to take.
Each course would be an intensive one- or two-week program, she said. They would be taught physically in NCIs building (as opposed to virtually), with four to six students each and taught by contracted industry-certified specialists.
“Ultimately we want to offer people the opportunity to stack these credentials” with higher level courses as well, she said.
The Alliance is just the first step in a growing field, the release states. Eventually, course offerings will span a wide variety of wind energy related disciplines and provide students with a customizable portfolio of training options. Programs will range from specific certifications to a year-long wind turbine technician program that bundles several industry-recognized certifications and prepares students to serve as certified installation technicians, inspectors, and maintenance technicians.
“The industry is still young,” and the basic courses are “the best place for us to start, to capture as many people as we can to start” the program off strong.
“Virginia is actively working to welcome new and expanding business in the offshore and onshore wind sector,” Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball said in the release. “These companies require a skilled workforce to reach their highest potential, and fortunately, because of our deep maritime roots, that workforce is here.”
Said Jackson: “Ultimately we would like for NCI to become a national wind training center. If we build enough courses up, build enough partnerships – if the industry continues to grow at a good pace, that’s very feasibly.”
There aren’t many wind training locations in the nation, she said, so this is “an opportunity to take it as far as the industry will grow.”
Having a wind program at NCI “proves that rural areas … can have a role to play in building innovative workforces.”
Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.
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