Editor’s Note: This case study first appeared in E2’s “Winds of Change” report, released in 2015.
Founded in 2010, Ecotech Institute, based in Aurora, is the nation’s leading college dedicated to training students for careers in clean energy.
Ecotech offers academic programs in subjects like wind energy technology, solar energy technology, and power utility technology.
The school attracts students ranging from
recent high school graduates to military veterans to mid-career workers looking for a transition. Many students enter Ecotech with no prior knowledge or experience in manufacturing or engineering, and some lack the skills needed to earn salaries beyond minimum wage.
“For students looking to build a career, this is where they choose to do it,” said wind energy instructor Walter Christmas.
In the two-year wind energy technology program, for example, students learn the mechanical, electrical, and safety skills needed to service complicated turbines that harness wind energy 100 meters off of the ground.
Nearly 200 students graduate from Ecotech each year. Wind program graduates enter the industry earning a base salary of $18 to 22 dollars per hour, with opportunities to accumulate more income through travel.
On-site training provided by companies is a critical last step to technicians operating independently, but many Echotech grads enter the clean energy workforce a step ahead of their competition.
“Ecotech graduates have an excellent foundation of skills to build on,” said Michael Rucker, head of Boulder-based wind operations company Harvest Energy Services, which employs several Ecotech alumni.
Chris Oberle, a career development specialist at Ecotech, said students focused on wind energy often have jobs lined up before they graduate. They find work at major wind industry players like NextEra, Vestas, DeWind, and General Electric.
NextEra, which owns four wind farms in Colorado, including its Limon project with nearly 400 turbines, is the biggest employer of Ecotech wind grads.
It employs 21 grads. Ecotech has become fundamental to the growth of Colorado’s wind industry, which has expanded thanks to smart policies at the state level.
“The future is bright,” Oberle said. “We have to continue the transition from non-renewables to renewables.”