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Wanted: Engineers with Clean-Energy Training and Experience

THE INSTITUTENew York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in July signed an agreement to create the United States’ largest offshore wind project, which is expected to create more than 1,600 jobs. Two wind farms, to be built off the coast of Long Island, are scheduled to start operating in the next five years. Together they’ll have the capacity to produce 1,700 megawatts of electricity, officials say, enough to power more than 1 million households.

Cuomo also signed the landmark Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent by 2050 and to get 70 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

Included in the legislation is funding to train people for clean-energy jobs and money for building an offshore wind training institute. That’s in addition to outlays provided by New York’s Clean Climate Careers Initiative, a workforce-development program launched in 2017.

IEEE Member Ilya Y. Grinberg, professor of engineering technology at Buffalo State College, is helping to create some of those programs. He teaches courses in power systems, electric machines, power electronics, and renewable energy and storage.

Here he outlines some of the approaches Buffalo State and the wider State University of New York system are taking to give full-time students as well as working adults the skills they need to compete in a competitive job market.

TRAINING PROGRAMS

Ten of the 64 schools in the SUNY system, including Buffalo State, already have received nearly US $6 million to create apprenticeships, internships, educational programs, and certification programs in clean energy. Buffalo State got a $753,000 grant last September to develop several clean-energy certification programs. The college plans to offer the courses late next year.

During the past year, Grinberg and other SUNY faculty members and officials worked with utilities (such as National Grid and the New York Power Authority), large employers (including Siemens), industries, consulting firms, and service companies to understand their needs.

“The certificate program has to be industry-driven,” Grinberg says. “The programs have to reflect the needs of industry so our students can be readily employable and not only possess the skills employers need today but also those needed in five years. What we realized in our meetings is that different types of industries have different needs. One size doesn’t fit all.”

PRACTICAL SPECIALIZED TRAINING

The certificate programs developed by Buffalo State and other SUNY institutions will be geared to those already employed in the field who want to update their skills on clean-energy technologies, he says. Courses are being developed on topics such as smart buildings and energy efficiency.

Buffalo State and its academic and industry partners plan to offer industry-recognized certifications such as the certificate of electrical safety for electricians, installers, and other skilled trades, Grinberg says.

Other training is planned for installers of photovoltaic solar panels and windmills, as well as for those working in manufacturing, construction, and energy distribution, he says. Another certification is for people who already have a two- or four-year degree but need to update their skills on emerging technologies or want to switch careers.

 “All these offerings mean employees will have the skills sought after by employers and can start working right away,” Grinberg says, “instead of going through training.”

A newly formed consortium of SUNY institutions plans to develop introductory courses for the general public to interest them in clean-energy careers, he says. One in five jobs in western New York are in industries with ties to green energy, according to a study by the Clean Energy Workforce Assessment for Western New York. The study reported an 8 percent job growth in the region between 2012 and 2017. The assessment shows that workers in the field earn $1,000 more annually than the average salary for the region.

University students will be able to take courses toward the certifications, in addition to their major, so they’ll be more employable, Grinberg says. The credits can be applied toward a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology, electrical engineering technology, or industrial technology. Students can gain hands-on experience in the clean-energy field through internships.

Those pursuing the certifications or taking a degree program will be able to use the state-of-the-art Smart-Grid Laboratory, a joint effort by Buffalo State and the University of Buffalo that offers experience in energy generation, transmission, and distribution, as well as the smart grid and microgrids.

“I believe SUNY can ensure sustainability in these training programs even when funding from the state runs out,” Grinberg says. “With new clean-energy technologies constantly emerging, there will always be a need for new training programs and research.”

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