By Michael d’Estries
Of all the occupations in the U.S. that will see the most growth over the next decade, wind turbine technician is the one leading the pack. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for wind turbine technicians will increase 61%, from 7,000 positions in 2019 to more than 11,300 by 2029.
The benefits don’t stop with plentiful job opportunities. Wind turbine technicians, or windtechs as they’re also called, enjoy good pay, benefits, million-dollar views and travel opportunities. It’s all made possible through technical training that won’t break the bank.
So how do you go from reading about this promising career to working at the top of a 300-foot wind turbine? Over the next several sections, we’ll break down the training options available, as well as the hard and soft skills you’ll need to succeed on the job.
Ready to become part of America’s green energy revolution?
A Love for Towering Heights and Mechanical Puzzles
Just like any other piece of advanced machinery, wind turbines require regular maintenance, testing, and occasional upgrades or repairs. Wind turbine technicians perform these tasks, which include troubleshooting electrical, hydraulic and mechanical components, often at heights anywhere from 100 to 400 feet. Safety is paramount in this industry of towering giants.
Windmill technicians are also involved in the installation of new turbines (3,000 turbines on average annually in the U.S.), as well as performing robotic repairs and drone inspections. It’s a job that has traditionally been male-dominated, but that’s changing, as this video of windtech Jessica Kilroy reveals.
Many in the industry, such as wind turbine tech Charlie Tran, say that having an interest in taking things apart and figuring out how to fix them is a big plus. You should also work well in teams, be detail-oriented and communicate well with others. You can expect this career to test your mind, as well as your body.
“What I wish I would have known before I got into this job is how physically demanding everything is,” Tran told SkillPointe. “Everything from the climb, to the maintenance, to the torquing, and even troubleshooting. It’s all labor-intensive physically and sometimes mentally. That’s something that really didn’t cross my mind when I was researching the career. You have to be mentally and physically fit.”
How Long Does it Take To Become a Wind Turbine Technician?
While there are several paths available, most professionals pursue either an associate degree at an accredited trade school or community college, a certification program or both. These options typically take anywhere from one to two years to complete, such as the two-year Energy Production and Distribution Technologies program at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa. It’s also not uncommon to come across fast-track programs promising employment after only six months of training.
A license is not required to become a wind turbine technician, but certification is recommended.
Before you look into any post-secondary courses or training, you'll need a high school diploma or equivalent. If you’re still in school, pursuing courses in algebra, computer science, electronics, technology and metalworking will help you prepare. After that, you can choose your training path into the wind energy industry.
What Should I Look for in a Windtech Training Program?
The first thing to consider when narrowing your search is whether the training you’re interested in is accredited. Accreditation is third-party recognition that the institution behind the program meets a high standard of academic excellence. This declaration of merit is beneficial not only for securing financial aid, but also for attracting prospective employers.
The U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy keeps a comprehensive list of nearly 200 accredited windmill technician programs available throughout the nation and is a great place to start. You can also search for wind turbine technician training programs near you on SkillPointe.
3 WindTech Programs from Start to Finish
Let’s walk through a few programs available to aspiring wind turbine technicians. We’ll cover training program features, completion times and cost.
TSTC offers two paths for entering the wind turbine industry. The first, a certificate program to become a wind energy technician, lasts 12 months, costs just under $9,000, and covers topics such as AC circuits, industrial automation, wind turbine fundamentals and more.
A second, more advanced program earns you an associate of applied science degree in wind energy technology, takes 20 months to complete, and costs just under $13,000. As you might expect, this training program builds on the curriculum offered in the certificate program. It includes courses in electromechanical systems, technical business writing, wind turbine troubleshooting and repair, and more.
Kalamazoo’s Wind Turbine Technician Academy (WTTA) is a fast-paced certificate program that can be completed in less than six months. Students meet Monday through Friday, eight hours a day for 24 weeks, learning the hands-on skills specifically required for operation and maintenance of towers.
Because of its close ties to industry partners, the program is considered one of the best for aspiring wind turbine technicians. The program includes wind turbine safety, wind energy theory, fundamentals of hydraulic, electrical and mechanical systems, rotor blade inspection and repair, and more. Total cost is $14,000.
According to technician Tran, this hands-on program immediately landed him a job in the industry.
“After completion of WTTA, that’s when I landed my traveling job maintaining turbines. I would have never thought I could see different parts of the U.S. while getting paid,” he said.
Cloud County offers a two-year associate of applied science degree and a one-year wind energy technician certificate for those with a two- or four-year degree in another discipline. In addition to a curriculum similar in content to the courses described above, the school also offers an optional internship at various Kansas-based wind farms that “has resulted in a high success rate of hire within the industry for our students,” according to the school.
What Comes Next After School?
Once you have your certificate or degree in hand, finding a job in the industry should be easy. There are thousands of jobs available around the country, and you can do a job search by ZIP code on SkillPointe. That’s a reflection of the need to support the growing number of wind farms in company portfolios. Median pay is just over $56,000, as of May 2020.
According to the BLS, new hires can expect an additional 12 months of on-the-job training to round out the lessons learned in school. Like any other industry on the cutting edge of renewable energy production, you can expect opportunities to learn new skills and gain additional certifications as turbines evolve and technology improves.
- Learn more about this career
- Read wind turbine technician Charlie Tran's story
- Find wind turbine technician training
- Find wind turbine technician jobs
Michael d’Estries writes about innovation, arts and culture for a variety of outlets. When he’s not online, Michael runs his large apple farm and honey business in the Finger Lakes region of New York.