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

(Image: CDC)
Fraser Health orders Surrey food-processing facility to close amid COVID-19 outbreak

Staff member at Surrey long-term care facility also tests positive for the virus

Upgrades underway at the Sunnyside Reservoir, adjacent to Sunnyside Acres Urban Forest, raised concerns among some residents Tuesday (Oct. 20), however, stewards of the park say everything went off without a hitch. (Tracy Holmes photo)
‘No issue’ with South Surrey reservoir drainage, despite trail user concerns: urban forest steward

Forest visitor taken aback by ‘unprecedented flooding’ of trails

A reminder to students at Surrey’s Strawberry Hill Elementary to physically distance during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Six Surrey schools reporting COVID-19 exposures

INTERACTIVE TABLE: Search for schools, organize by exposure dates

Lotto winner Erwin Espiritu. (submitted photo: BCLC media relations)
$1M lotto surprise for Surrey dad buying takeout food for son’s birthday

‘When I went to show my son, he said that there was six zeros on the screen, not three’

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

BC Liberals Leader Andrew Wilkinson, BC Greens Sonia Furstenau, BC NDP John Horgan (The Canadian Press photos)
British Columbians vote in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

At dissolution, the NDP and Liberals were tied with 41 seats in the legislature, while the Greens held two seats

The possibility of the Canadian Premier League expanding to the Fraser Valley has been floated online. (Facebook photo)
Canadian Premier League possibly eyeing Fraser Valley expansion

Soccer league looking to add ninth team to the mix, B.C. markets potentially rumoured

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

The family of Anika Janz, who died after collapsing at school, has launched a GoFundMe to assist with funeral proceedings. (GoFundMe photo)
Family of student who died launches GoFundMe

Rick Hansen Secondary School student Anika Janz, 14, died after collapsing in PE class

Most Read