If you love being outdoors and are mechanically inclined, Charlie Tran wants to talk to you. He thinks his story might help you find your path.
The 27-year-old is a wind technician, aka wind turbine technician, with NextEra Energy. He maintains and troubleshoots wind turbines. He's been in the wind industry for about 2 1/2 years. He spent about two years traveling with a company called Airway Services, then decided to settle down and find a non-traveling position closer to home.
Why did you become a wind turbine technician?
Originally coming out of high school, I was always confused about what I wanted to be when I grew up.
As a kid, I always liked to take stuff apart and knew I was always mechanically minded, but I couldn’t pick a career. After high school, I worked at my parents’ restaurant but eventually I decided I wanted to become a nurse because I’d heard they make good money. I went to community college to complete my courses and got my associate degree. I eventually lost interest in nursing but found a passion for becoming a dental hygienist, which shared the same prerequisites as nursing. I applied for dental hygiene school but I didn’t get in.
Right about that time, my parents closed their restaurant. I was without a job and had no clue what was next for me. But for some reason, I was getting emails from the career website Glassdoor. The first thing that popped up when I clicked on the email was “Fastest Growing Jobs in the U.S.”
When I clicked on that link, the first thing that popped up was wind turbine technician. Growing up in the South, I had never seen a wind turbine, but I thought to myself "That it would be a really cool career!" When I researched more about this career, it drew me closer to picking it. It matched everything I had always liked doing — being outdoors, seeing new places and maintaining things.
I then researched some schools and decided to choose Kalamazoo Valley Community College because they offered the fast-track, six-month Wind Turbine Technician Academy (WTTA), which is a highly sought-after and hands-on accredited program.
After completion of WTTA, I landed my traveling job maintaining turbines. I would have never thought I could see different parts of the U.S. while getting paid.
If it wasn’t for that random email, I would have never considered this career just because I didn’t know these types of jobs existed. I constantly get questions from friends, family and the online community about these turbines and my job in general.
What does a typical day working on wind turbines look like?
On a typical day, we start pretty early in the morning, around 7 a.m. We have a safety meeting, talk about anything from yesterday’s job or lessons learned, and then get our job or task for the day. We are assigned teams. Then we grab our tools and the parts that we need for the turbine and drive to our tower.
Once at the turbine, we complete a pre-job safety analysis, don our harness and PPE, do a stretch exercise, crane our tools and parts up the turbine, and then climb the long 300-foot ladder to the top. After we finish the assigned task, we climb down and head back to the shop, either to go back and climb another tower or to debrief and then head home, depending on the time of the day, and repeat.
What do you like most about being a wind turbine technician? And least?
What I like most are the views, opportunities to travel, and the money.
What I like least are how remote some of the wind farms are from where you stay or live. Many technicians drive 30 minutes to an hour or more each way for work. Most wind farms are in the middle of nowhere.
What’s the most common misconception about your job?
I would say the biggest misconception is how wind turbines are noisy or kill lots of birds. Standing directly under a turbine, all you hear is a hushed “whoosh” as each blade passes by. The design of the modern wind turbine blade is pretty aerodynamic and has many technologies integrated to minimize noise.
What do you wish you knew about the job before you got into it?
What I wish I would have known before I got into this job is how physically demanding everything is. 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 didn’t cross my mind when I was researching the career. You have to be mentally and physically fit.
What personal qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?
Some traits would be the ability to adapt and to learn new technologies and about different model turbines. The ability to work hard. And it’s important that you be passionate about green energy.
Is there a time where you felt your job made a real impact?
Every day. Every turbine we fix and maintain creates cleaner and greener power, not only for us to use, but for future generations to use.
Can you describe one particular moment as a wind technician that gave you real satisfaction?
The most satisfaction comes when you uncover the issue with a faulty turbine through troubleshooting. No two turbines are alike, so that keeps you on your toes. You are always learning, which keeps it interesting and makes you a better troubleshooter in general. It definitely gives you a different perspective on everything — for example, like troubleshooting issues on your car. It makes you look at the issue from all different angles.