Union Ironworkers Prepare for Green Jobs With Specialized Wind Turbine Training

As more and more wind turbines are erected across the open plains, farmlands, and mountain ridges of the United States, the need for ironworkers with specialized construction skills has naturally grown, says the Iron Workers International Union. Ask anyone knowledgeable about wind energy, and you'll quickly learn that the latest "green" technology -- despite a recent surge in public interest - is nothing new to union ironworkers.

In fact, ironworkers have been erecting wind turbines for decades. What is new is a need for independent certifications-driven largely by increased scrutiny of the wind energy sector -- meant to improve safety and quality across the industry. In response, the Iron Workers International Union  -- working with the Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust (IMPACT) - is offering wind turbine training programs for union ironworkers to develop key construction skills. Through a new IMPACT program, certification in torque/tension and tower-climbing and safety procedures, including high-angle rescue procedures, comes from industry-recognized leaders, including Capital Safety (DBI/SALA), Snap-on Industrial and HYTORC.

To provide just-in-time training for ironworker local unions and signatory contractors, the Iron Workers Union has teamed with the Francis Tuttle Technology Center in Oklahoma City, Okla. The FTTC is a member of the Wind Energy Training Consortium, a group of training institutions-brought together by Snap-on Industrial in February, 2009-that's now recognized by the American Wind Energy Association as promoting essential skills training for wind turbine technicians.

The 36-hour course, spanning four days, focuses on two major areas of wind turbine construction: tower safety and torque/tension certification. Each session trains up to 10 ironworkers.

In tower safety and rescue training, ironworkers learn about fall protection, as well as high-angle rescue and evacuation techniques, and types of equipment. Specifically, ironworkers learn the proper use, care, and maintenance of height-safety equipment. With successful completion, ironworkers receive a nationally recognized DBI Tower Safety Certificate.

In torque/tension training, ironworkers can gain certification in the use of basic fasteners and proper safety procedures, along with mechanical, electronic and hydraulic torque knowledge. Hands-on learning is enabled by torque-tooling industry leaders Snap-on Industrial and HYTORC. Successful completion of this course component provides three industry recognized certifications.

The training continues to reinforce the Iron Worker's "iron-clad commitment to the highest jobsite-safety standards [that help] protect ironworkers' health, and make jobs more profitable," says Marvin Ragsdale, president of the Iron Workers District Council of Texas and the Mid-South States.

Harvey Swift, assistant director of education and training for IMPACT, says union ironworkers present a real advantage to the investors behind wind farm projects. "With continuous, advanced training, today's union ironworkers are more highly skilled than ever before," says Swift. "Now, this includes skills that they can immediately apply on 'green' construction jobs."

Part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a U.S. Department of Labor Energy Training Partnership Grant has enabled IMPACT to replicate the FTTC training model in five U.S. cities: Buffalo, N.Y.; Dallas; Joliet, Ill.; Los Angeles; and Salt Lake City. Each location can train up to 100 ironworkers within the program's plan.

Julio Gonzalez is the apprenticeship and training coordinator for Iron Workers Union Local 263 in Dallas/Fort Worth. Gonzalez points out that "While ironworkers and their contractors have led the way building and maintaining turbines, the new training program adds requisite turbine-industry certification to ironworkers' broad construction skill sets."

"For years, our union ironworkers have been trained to safely erect and maintain wind turbines. Now they have industry-standard certification to validate their skills," says Greg Schulze, apprenticeship and training coordinator for the IWU in Texas.

Due to the advanced coursework, only journeymen ironworkers with a minimum of three years of field experience who have completed OSHA 10, Subpart R and First Aid/CPR/AED training are eligible for IMPACT's Wind Turbine Erection Training.

Representing the Iron Workers Union, Schulze and Gonzalez will attend the AWEA Wind Energy Fall Symposium's Wind Power Health & Safety Workshop, October 26-27, in Austin. For information about the event, visit http://www.awea.org/events/safety10.

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