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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Lacombe salon alters cleaning procedures to protect clients, staff

Hairapy owner pleased to be able to ‘do what they do best’ again

Rams volleyball returning three veterans, new coach next season

Veterans hope to use leadership learned from this season

Lacombe Council approves 2020 property tax rate

Most residential and non-residential property owners will see a decrease in their property tax bill

Lacombe’s Local Improvement Tax Policy intended to ensure fairness

Local improvement can be initiated by the City based on direction from Council

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The Lacombe Express covers the stories that matter to you and to our community

If an MP heckles in a virtual House of Commons, does it make a sound?

If an MP heckles in a virtual House of Commons, does it make a sound?

How much will be enough when it comes to Canada’s COVID-19 supply?

How much will be enough when it comes to Canada’s COVID-19 supply?

Twenty-nine of Canada’s 48 national parks to reopen to day-use visitors in early June

Twenty-nine of Canada’s 48 national parks to reopen to day-use visitors in early June

Advocates push Ottawa to fix long-term problems with long-term care

Advocates push Ottawa to fix long-term problems with long-term care

COVID-19 shows need for long-term-care reform but solve crisis first, Trudeau says

COVID-19 shows need for long-term-care reform but solve crisis first, Trudeau says

Military has located wreckage of helicopter and remains in Mediterranean

Military has located wreckage of helicopter and remains in Mediterranean

Five things to know about the Meng Wanzhou extradition case

Five things to know about the Meng Wanzhou extradition case

Huawei executive loses court ruling, extradition case continues

Huawei executive loses court ruling, extradition case continues

Most Read