Texas company launches huge wind training site in Denver area

The demand for wind energy workers is expected to increase over the next few years, and Colorado could be a major training ground for an industry looking to meet this need.

Workrise, a workforce management company, recently opened a 56,000 square foot center in Broomfield to train skilled workers for the wind industry. The company, based in Austin, Texas, plans to expand training in solar power and other trades, a key reason for such a large facility.

“The core mission of the company has always been the skilled worker, the empowerment of the skilled worker,” said Leslie Elliott, general manager of the company’s energy verticals.

Workrise, formerly named RigUp, started in oil and gas and saw an opportunity to expand into wind and solar, Elliott said. The company, created 7 years ago, also offers training and internships in the defense and construction sectors.

With renewable energy, Elliott said, Workrise not only sees an opportunity to help people improve their skills and advance in their careers, but also a chance to help fill “a huge gap in skilled trades ahead. in the USA”.

The shift to more renewable energy, along with efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the impacts of climate change, is driving demand for skilled workers, according to a recent report by American Clean Power. Association. Reducing carbon emissions by at least 50% by 2030, as promised by the Biden administration, will require significant job growth compared to current projections, according to the industry organization’s report.

The wind industry has the greatest potential for job growth, with onshore and offshore wind farms expected to create 2.5 to 3 million years of employment over the next decade, according to the report.

RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

Workrise instructor James Coyne teaches a first aid course at the company’s premises in Broomfield on August 3, 2021.

A year of employment represents one year of work for a person. A construction job that lasts five years would correspond to five employment years.

The wind industry in Europe estimates it will need 150,000 additional employees over the next decade, said Shawn Lamb, director of training at Workrise.

“If you put these numbers in American terms, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of workers,” said Lamb, who led Danish Wind Power Academy Americas’ US operations.

Workrise’s goal is to put 100,000 people to work by 2023 and 1 million people by 2030. The company has rapidly expanded its reach. Around 80% of the people they worked with in 2019 worked in the oil and gas sector. In 2020, the split was one-third each in construction, renewables, and oil and gas.

The American Clean Power Association report says wind turbine technicians earned an average of $59,340 in 2020, 5% more than the national average. Elliott said people can earn more as they progress through different levels.

Lamb said the company, which has about 70 offices across the country, chose the Denver area for the training center after acquiring Harvest Energy Services, a wind energy company in Boulder.

“There are also a lot of renewable energy customers in this space. It’s central to the United States,” Lamb said.

And it’s about a 25 minute drive from Denver International Airport.

RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

Workrise students learn how to repair a wind turbine at the company’s facility in Broomfield on August 3, 2021.

In the field

Over 100 people have taken the two-week Workrise sessions since the Broomfield center opened earlier this summer. Andrew Glennie has registered and worked as a turbine blade technician at a wind farm in Bliss, NY for about two months.

“It’s definitely something I hadn’t considered before. He came out of left field, but everything clicks for me,” Glennie said.

Glennie, 41, graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and then went to auto body painting school. He worked in a custom car shop and in auto body repair. He has also worked in large scale construction, renovation and metal fabrication.

At Workrise, Glennie completed a week of training focused on the standards developed by the Europe-based Global Wind Organization. Students participate in extensive safety drills on a 30-foot structure that simulates different parts of a wind turbine. They don their safety gear, including a full body harness, ropes and anchors, to step in to rescue someone or themselves.

“We are our own first responders on the ground,” Lamb said.

Trainees undergo a simulated evacuation from a nacelle, the Winnebago-sized structure atop the turbine that houses the generator and other equipment and sits at least 300 feet, or approximately 28 stories, above above ground. They also practice rescuing someone who has slipped on the ladder inside the turbine tube.

During her second week, Glennie worked on repairing turbine blades in a special unit built in the training center. The air inside must have a certain pressure. The work tables are equipped with a vacuum cleaner to suck up dust which could otherwise be a safety hazard.

A technician usually repairs a blade, which is made of fiberglass and resin, in the air. Blade techs are in short supply, Elliott said. “Whenever we’re ready for more people to go out and work, they’re gone.”

This was the case of Glennie, who lived in Texas before her training. Workrise immediately found him a job. He said he felt “100% prepared” for the job which he may see sticking around for some time.

“I feel like I’ve found the job that ticks all the boxes,” Glennie said.

People don’t pay for training. Workrise employs workers and covers their expenses when they are away from home. The company’s paying customers are the businesses and utilities that own the sites where people work.

In a blog post, Workrise co-founders Xuan Yong and Mike Witte said the company started as a platform similar to Angie’s List for oil and gas companies. They saw that matching individual workers to jobs was a big draw for skilled workers struggling with an “awkward staffing model.”

The goal is to make it easier for workers to find work and for businesses to find the employees they need, Yong and Witte said.

After starting but not completing nursing and cosmetology programs and working for FedEx, Kayla Contreras took wind training at a school in Oklahoma and then Workrise training in Broomfield. The 22-year-old was hired for a job at a wind farm in Iowa and moved to a second job site in the state.

“I love working. I’ve been working since I was 15,” Contreras said. “I feel like it’s a perfect choice for me because I always like to go, go, go.”

For the moment, Contreras does not hesitate to move. She said Workrise pays a per diem for expenses and pays for flights and hotels.

“Being based in the same place is possible,” Contreras said. “I don’t mind traveling. I would like to continue to explore other places and experiment as much as possible.

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