June 24, 2020

Facing Covid-19, hiring continues in wind turbine industry with focus on safety, training priorities

Wind turbine technicians are in demand as hiring continues across the industry

Wind turbine technicians are in demand as hiring continues across the industry, according to members of the North America committee of Global Wind Organisation (GWO), a nonprofit founded by wind turbine manufacturers and owners to create worldwide standards for safety and emergency procedures.

Furthermore, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said, “Employment of wind turbine service technicians, also known as windtechs, is projected to grow 57 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.”

Environmental, health and safety (EHS) as well as operations executives of Acciona Energy USA, ENERCON Canada Inc., GE Renewable Energy, Ørsted, RWE Renewables Americas, Siemens Gamesa and Vestas Wind Systems – all members of GWO – recently collaborated to identify five practical tips to operate in the new world order of Covid-19:

  1. Shift interviews to virtual
  2. Hire local, train local
  3. Maintain training continuity when possible with social distancing
  4. Transition resources to prioritize online learning
  5. Modify work schedules

Shift interviews to virtual

Of the companies involved in the conversation on Covid-19, all but one is still hiring wind technicians – with the exception still conducting interviews and recruiting, planning to ramp up.

Interviews now are conducted via Skype, Lync, FaceTime or other means accessible to candidates and to avoid contact.  

After changing the hiring process, here’s the challenge: “Hiring is not the problem; onboarding is.”

Hire local, train local

One of the ways to be able to onboard new hires is focusing on local delivery of training – bringing on new employees to locations where there are both a need for talent as well as the instructors and facilities for training.

“Fortunately, most plants have on-site technician trainers who can continue to deliver hands-on training such as lockout tagout (LOTO), material handling and fall protection and rescue at the site.”

While hiring and training local works for some, there's another reality today:  Social distancing.

Maintain training continuity when possible with social distancing

Elements of safety and technical training at one company are conducted outside of the classroom via social distancing with managers evaluating and signing off on new hires' capability for safety knowledge and technique.

“…a blend of Distance Learning modules (led by my trainers), on-site Practical Exercises (led by an on-site mentor), and at/up-tower Practical Exercises (led by on-site mentor) with a detailed checklist.”

At another company, training enables new hire windtechs to safely climb as a third person on a team, while being 100 percent supervised by two experienced and competent climbers/rescuers.

Transition resources to prioritize online learning

Training also is modified to include online courses where possible, along with virtual classrooms.  The key is how and when to start the transition with existing training resources.

“We were given a full week to suspend all training in order to focus on shifting to an online curriculum.”

At another company, the focus is on newer versus legacy platforms to ensure that safety and technical training is provided to technicians working on more recently installed or commissioned turbines.

What’s more is that GWO is both leading and supporting the movement to online with a digital refresh of Basic Safety Training that enables technicians to maintain their certifications in most of the modules.  GWO also has taken steps to lengthen certification periods by extending refresher training deadlines up to 60 days so experienced technicians can stay on the job.

Modify work schedules

A range of options exists to implement social distancing while at work as well, and these include using one truck per employee versus two or three workers in a vehicle.  

“Our technicians are working alternate shifts and minimizing interactions.”

Along with the changes in schedules is the opportunity to sanitize vehicles, where the individual coming off the shift cleans everything, while the technician starting also does the same thing.

A final thought

One member of our GWO team summed up a good approach based on realities, priorities and learnings…

“We have started virtual training for as many of our courses as possible, at least the ones that do not require practicals.  We are leveraging experience gained from performing virtual training on two previous courses.”

All-in-all, these observations and insights can help focus hiring, safety and training… one vital step at a time.

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