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

Victoria police arrest suspect in two daytime robberies

A robber told businesses he had a weapon and demanded cash

What Victoria residents are looking to buy while social distancing

New search terms pop up on the Used.ca the top 100 list

Flurries fall on Malahat Monday morning

Showers expected off and on for rest of the day

Sidney’s top emergency official reiterates need for physical distancing during virtual chat

The public Sunday also heard of future plans to help local businesses through tax deferments

‘We need to do better:’ VicPD responds to more parties, gatherings

Chief pleads with public to ‘think of the greater good’

Canada expands 75% wage subsidy to COVID-19 affected businesses of all sizes: Trudeau

Program will provide up to $847 per week for each worker

COVID-19: A message from the publisher

We will be making some changes to our print editions during these unprecedented times

LifeLabs reducing public hours as it assists with COVID-19 testing

Coronavirus tests not done at B.C. patient centres, referrals only

24,000 Canadian Forces members ready for COVID-19 response: Defence Minister

No direct requests made by premiers yet, national defence minister says

IN DEPTH: How B.C. emptied its hospitals to prepare for COVID-19

Thousands of beds have been freed up, but patients and seniors have had to sacrifice

‘Nothing concrete’: Tenants, landlords lack details after B.C. unveils COVID-19 rental aid

Single mom in Golden says she’s already going to the food bank after being laid off

B.C. is seeing the highest rate of COVID-19 recovery in Canada, and there’s a few reasons why

British Columbia was one of the first to see rise in COVID-19 cases, and has also switched up testing

World COVID-19 morning update: Olympics delayed one year; 12,000 health care workers infected

Comprehensive world news update: Lockdown in UK showing signs of hope

Most Read