Inside General Electric’s Energy Learning Center, GE wind turbine technicians spend 500 hours in classrooms and in practical, hands-on field lab training to become senior certified technicians. And now, thanks to a new partnership between GE and Excelsior College, they can also earn up to 49 credit hours toward a bachelor’s degree for the time they spend getting certified.
“Excelsior College recognizes the future of adult education will be increasingly aligned with the needs of businesses and workers alike, including the energy industry,” said college President Dr. John Ebersole.
As part of the partnership, Excelsior is creating a new concentration in renewable energy technologies. It will be available starting today. GE employees who complete their certification training can put their 49 credits toward the degree.
Nick Stewart, an instructor at the Energy Learning Center and an Excelsior student, said that since Excelsior is an online degree program, it fits well with the sometimes complicated schedules of professional wind turbine operators.
“Unlike other online universities, you don’t have to spend a certain amount of time online at Excelsior — you just have to finish your requirements each week,” he said. Since technicians are always
on call, he said, it would be difficult for them to spend a certain amount of time each day in an online classroom. Instead, the school issues weekly requirements.
According to Stewart, the ability to earn credits for a bachelor’s degree is helpful because most wind turbine technicians only need a certificate or an associate’s degree to get their jobs. Getting a bachelor’s degree provides extra training and opportunities for advancement.
Stewart explained that GE employees will spend part of their schooling at the Energy Learning Center, where they’ll learn how to use troubleshooting software that is capable of identifying the exact piece of equipment involved with a malfunction.
Since the wind is always changing speed and direction, turbine technicians need to know how to adjust the turbines so that they operate at maximum efficiency.
He and other instructors at the Energy Learning Center go into equipment and purposefully create faults for their students to identify as part of a typical lesson. Technician-students are then challenged to find and fix the fault.
“It’s kind of nice,” Stewart said. “I spent all of my time when I was working on a turbine fixing faults, and now I get to create them. … We try to make the lessons as interesting and participatory as possible.”
Technicians work on actual GE wind turbine equipment, including the nacelle — a white, bus-shaped box that contains a turbine’s electricity generating equipment. In the field, the device would be 250 feet up in the air and could power between 600 and 700 homes while running at full capacity. In the GE lab, it sits on the ground and is surrounded by several other accessible pieces of turbine equipment.
After completing their certification program, GE employees can fulfill the remainder of the requirements for a bachelor’s degree through Excelsior College’s online courses.
Dan Lance, the manager of learning and development for GE’s renewable energy business, said that the maximum number of credits would put a person 40 percent of the way toward a bachelor’s degree.
“This program will make a bachelor’s degree more reachable for our technicians. Of about 300 technicians in the country, 250 of them are eligible to enter this program.”
Lance added that the partnership was especially valuable both as a tool for recruiting technicians to GE and as a way to retain them. He also said it would be effective in helping technicians advance in their field.
“Think of the value of having someone who has worked on turbines for part of their career advancing to the level where they would be designing them,” Lance said.
The dean of the School of Business and Technology for Excelsior College, Dr. Jane LeClair, said that the partnership will help keep students and technicians moving forward in their fields.
Travis Anderson, site leader for GE at the Blue Canyon Wind Farm in Oklahoma, has worked at wind farm sites using GE turbines for five years, according to a news release. He’s one of the first GE service technicians to enroll in the Excelsior program and is now eligible for 48 college credits.
“The renewable energy college credits program with Excelsior College is important to us as GE employees because it recognizes the value of our training and rewards us for our classroom and practical work experience,” he said.