Federal grant aims to stimulate growth in energy jobs

Training » Public/private alliances ramp up to provide workers with needed skills.
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A $4.6 million federal grant is invigorating a broad-based effort by state government, educational institutions and the private sector to develop more energy-sector jobs.

The Utah Department of Workforce Services and Salt Lake Community College are taking lead roles in creating four regional "Energy Academies" designed to teach workers skills in industries that promote energy efficiency or the development of renewable-energy resources.

More than 1,400 Utahns are expected to receive free training from the program.

Funding comes from State Energy Sector Partnership and Training grants supplied by the U.S. Department of Labor through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. These "green jobs training grants" will amount to $190 million nationwide.

"The goal is to get people trained for good-paying jobs that have longevity," said Mason Bishop, Salt Lake Community College's vice president of institutional advancement.

Exactly how many academy graduates find jobs because of the training, and where those jobs will be, remains to be seen. But Bishop noted that training programs were designed based on data from various employment projections and discussions with the private-sector partners.

"In these types of projects, specific employers are hesitant to 'guarantee' jobs, but we remain confident -- based on our close employer consultations -- that we will design curriculum and provide courses that will lead to actual jobs," he said.

Workforce Services officials are establishing eligibility criteria for admission into an academy. Each academy will have offer different types of training based on its specialties and needs, with curriculum developed by local educational groups.

DWS spokesman Curt Stewart said the regional groupings include:

» Salt Lake County, with a satellite campus in Brigham City, slotted to train 1,070 people in green construction, alternative fuels, energy management and renewable-energy transmission;

» Eastern and southeastern Utah, with instructors from the College of Eastern Utah and the Uintah Basin Applied Technology Center training 230 people in alternative fuels, green construction and energy management;

» Southwestern Utah, with the Applied Technology Center in Cedar City providing training to 100 individuals for working with wind, solar and geothermal resources;

» Davis County, with SLCC and the Applied Technology Center there teaming up on a curriculum still being finalized as they try to determine the number of people who can be trained.

"The real intent of this project is to combine new technologies that are emerging, bringing new job opportunities, and making sure that training and the work force development curriculum is tied to that," said SLCC's Bishop.

The project's potential excites other participants.

"It's great to see the state promoting cooperation between the various institutions and taking advantage of their expertise," said Dana Miller, president of the Southwest Applied Technology Center.

In his area of the state, the presence of a wind-power project outside of Milford shows the array of training needed to bring this type of renewable resource online. First Wind, a Boston-based company, started generating electricity in October from the first phase of the $400 million Milford Wind Corridor Project. It is projected to produce 203.5 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 44,000 homes, in Southern California.

To build wind farms requires skilled welders, electricians, heavy-equipment operators, cement cutters and carpenters, Miller said. "Then it's turned over to wind technicians. They need electrical skills and lots of computer skills for diagnosis and maintenance."

Added Lynette Bujack, the Southwest Applied Technology Center's vice president of academics: "We're lucky to have the first wind farm for us so we can tap into their resources to understand that whole industry."

The center has spent the past two years developing training programs to fit the farm's diverse needs. This grant money will accelerate that process.

"This will help, having the resources. Our college is very able to do some rapid curriculum development," Bujack said. "We respond all the time to the needs of employers. They call and say, 'I need people trained with these skills.' Then we develop curriculum and get the training going.

"We really want to make sure that what we deliver fits with where jobs are currently and in the future," she added.

Although not finalized, the training in eastern Utah is likely to focus on converting vehicles to use compressed natural gas, energy-wise construction and the specialized construction of Native American hogans in San Juan County, said Miles Nelson, associate vice president of CEU's work force education program.

"We will be meeting with Workforce Services representatives and our partners from the Uintah Basin over the next four to five weeks to work through these details," Nelson noted.

Promoting the use of cleaner fuels also figures prominently in the Salt Lake academy, Bishop said.

"The Utah Transit Authority is looking to convert its bus fleet to natural gas," he noted. "We're going to provide the curriculum and training that allows workers to gain skills to convert those buses and maintain them."

With its statewide approach, the Energy Sector Training program fits neatly into efforts by the Governor's Office of Economic Development to promote "cluster accelerator projects" that advance the state's strong points -- from energy development to outdoor recreation industries.

"These grants further support the vision of the plan that we're trying to build these partnerships between industry, government and education," said GOED Executive Director Spencer Eccles.

"We know that education is the supplier, and industry is the consumer of those job skills," he added. "This process helps us to be more cutting edge when it comes to promoting alternative energy and energy planning."


Energy Academy partners

Participants in the "green" energy-oriented training programs include:

Government » Utah Department of Workforce Services, Utah State Energy Program, Governor's Energy Advisory Board, Governor's Office of Economic Development, Utah State System of Higher Education, Utah State Office of Rehabilitation, Utah Transit Authority

Private sector » Rocky Mountain Power, Questar, Intermountain Power Association, Utah Association of General Contractors, Utah Auto Dealers Association

Nonprofits and labor unions » Utah chapter of the AFL-CIO, Salt Lake Community Action Program, Utah Clean Cities Coalition, Utah Clean Energy

Source » U.S. Department of Labor