A new associate degree program will help regional utilities address a critical shortage of electrical power technicians needed to build and maintain the energy infrastructure. It will also enable graduates to work in a high-demand, profitable career that is largely unaffected by shifts in the economy. Northern Michigan University offers the degree in collaboration with the Lake Superior Community Partnership Foundation and Upper Peninsula power companies. Registration is now open for the fall 2009 semester. “With workforce retirements, we did not foresee a good future in attracting personnel to fill these positions. The industry as a whole is in the same position,” said David Lynch, superintendent of distribution at the Marquette Board of Light and Power. “This program provides an avenue for filling vacancies and allows utilities to draw upon a trained local workforce rather than having to seek employees from outside the area who might move on after a couple of years. It also provides a career path to local students that didn’t exist before.” The new electrical power technician degree includes four specialty courses: substation equipment, transformers, protective relay systems and three-phase power and equipment. Officials expect to enroll 20-30 students. “This program will meet the increased demand for trained employees to build and maintain electrical distribution equipment that feeds the power lines,” said Mike Rudisill, head of the engineering technology department at NMU. “The existing electrical power distribution system needs updating and the addition of alternative energy sources will require additional infrastructure. In most areas, if industrial wind turbines are installed, there is also a need to install new power lines because the current system cannot handle the added load. The entire U.P. power industry—from distributors and suppliers to contractors—has been very enthusiastic and supportive in contributing equipment and funding to get this program off the ground.” Courses will be held on campus with instruction delivered by NMU faculty and industry representatives. Rudisill said the Jacobetti Center will have laboratory facilities and a mock substation outside to facilitate the required training. The new two-year degree program builds on the success of the previously established electrical line technician program, a one-year diploma. The latter was the first collaborative venture between NMU, the LSCP Foundation and regional utility companies and the first program offered at the Midwest Skills Development Center at Sawyer, a facility designed to meet current and future workforce needs in the Upper Peninsula. The effort recently garnered a first-place award from the Mid-America Economic Development Council in the category of workforce development. “Students graduating from the program will have a variety of employment opportunities, from utilities and wind turbines to manufacturing,” said Brett French, chair of the LSCP Foundation advisory board and regional manager of American Transmission Company. “The goal is to graduate individuals with skills required to meet the needs of the energy industry as it continues to evolve. Renewable energy initiatives and technology advancements will drive the need for graduates of this new program.” To register, call NMU admissions at 906-227-2650 or 800-682-9797. Information on the program is also available at www.nmu.edu/engineeringtechnology, or by calling the engineering technology department at 227-2190.
March 18, 2009