Instructor Chris DeLifle, exits the training tower used by the Lethbridge College Wind Turbine Technician program, Wednesday, November 15, 2017, in Lethbridge, Alberta. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Rossiter

‘There’s more than oil and gas:’ Wind blowing workers in new direction

“It’s been an eye-opener going into a different industry. There’s more than oil and gas. It’s pretty cool.”

The winds of change are pushing Mark Kokas in a new career direction.

Nearly two years after being laid off as an electrician in Alberta’s flailing oil and gas sector, the 42-year-old is training to become a wind turbine technician.

“It is tough to find work right now. It’s not like it was before,” said Kokas in a class at Lethbridge College, one of two institutions in Western Canada that offers training and the only one with a one-year certificate program.

“Oil and gas used to be our bread and butter, but it isn’t any more. There’s going to be a really hard push now to get people trained where the industry wants them to be,” he said.

“It’s been an eye-opener going into a different industry. There’s more than oil and gas. It’s pretty cool.”

The one-year course to become a wind turbine technician comes with a warning label on the college website: “Those afraid of heights need not apply.”

“Most don’t have a warning label. We do. Our students end up working in an office 300 feet in the air, so obviously safety is a big priority,” said instructor Chris DeLisle.

“We need to make sure you’re not scared of heights.”

DeLisle said that with the downturn in the oil and gas sector, alternative energy sources such as wind are a natural fit for many who are laid off. About four out of the 16 people in his class have worked in the oil sector in some capacity, he said.

“With Alberta looking to kind of lead the rest of the country now into renewable energy, wind is … at the forefront, so it’s going to be around for a while.”

Wind power is eliciting optimism at a time when Canada is trying to reduce its carbon footprint.

With their giant 80-metre-high turbines stretching as far as the eye can see and 45-metre-long blades turning gracefully in the breeze, wind farms in areas including southern Alberta are becoming more common.

The Canadian Wind Energy Association estimates that if Alberta were to use wind energy to fulfil a commitment to add 5,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2030, it would generate $8.3 billion in investment along with employment.

“I only wish I was laid off earlier, so I could have started earlier and I could already be working,” said Kokas. “There shouldn’t be an issue of getting a job at the end of this class.”

DeLisle said the course includes a lot of electrical training, as well as how to repair fibreglass windmill blades and learning the inner workings of the turbine itself.

It also involves plenty of safety work using a life-sized dummy that DeLisle calls Rescue Randy.

“Yeah, that’s one of our former students that didn’t make it through the program,” he said with a laugh.

“We use him for all the different rescue scenarios. If somebody was to get hurt inside the hub, they need to bring them out and bring them to the ground. It’s a mock-up for rescues.”

Oscar Diaz-Kennedy has spent the last few years landscaping and working on construction projects. At 24, he said he can see which way the wind is blowing.

“I’ve just seen how the world is going and how Alberta is changing from oilfields going to renewable energy,” Diaz-Kennedy said.

“I decided I wanted to be ahead of the loop a little bit.”

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Four-car crash, including RCMP vehicle, on Highway 2

Two sheriff’s vehicles were also involved in the collision that closed down one lane

Rev. Deborah Laing says goodbye to Rimbey

Rimbey United Church minister moves on

Misadventures of a farm wife

Beating the storm, almost

Golf tourney raises funds, attracts pros

Gull Lake Pro Am great success

VIDEO: Trudeau shuffles familiar faces, adds new ones to expanded cabinet

Justin Trudeau shuffles his front bench Wednesday to install the roster of ministers that will be entrusted with leading the Liberal team into next year’s election.

Four people taken by STARS to Edmonton

Blackfalds RCMP investigates single vehicle rollover south of Hwy 11A

The Expo Wheel ride a no-go at Westerner Days

Red Deerians take in Westerner Days all week long

Trump was taped talking of paying Playboy model: AP source

Source says former personal lawyer Michael Cohen secretly recorded discussion prior to 2016 election

UPDATED: Remains of all eight Bruce McArthur victims now identified, Toronto police say

McArthur worked as a landscaper and allegedly concealed the remains of several men in planters

Premiers to wrap up 2 days of meetings at New Brunswick seaside resort

Meetings held in the scenic seaside town of St. Andrews on Thursday focused on trade

World’s translators push back on forcing Trump interpreter to testify

Democrats had asked translator to testify about Trump’s lengthy conversation with Putin in Helsinki

Canadian government threatens to retaliate if Trump imposes auto tariffs

U.S president had suggested that auto imports pose a national security risk to the U.S.

Cannabis education and information meeting held

Residents learn about facts and ‘puff’ facts

Most Read