U.S. Labor Dept. Praises Kirkwood Training Program

By George Ford, Reporter

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By Jay Knoll

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - A U.S. Department of Labor official on Thursday said the advanced manufacturing and renewable energy training programs at Kirkwood Community College are a model for retraining America’s workers.

Deputy U.S. Secretary of Labor Seth Harris gave his assessment after touring the college’s energy training center with its Clipper wind turbine components and the advanced manufacturing training facilities with state-of-the-art equipment.

“President Obama in his recent State of the Union address talked about the need to retrain 2 million American workers for sustainable jobs paying middle class salaries,” Harris said. “What I’ve seen today here at Kirkwood is exactly what will be needed to accomplish the president’s goals.

“President Obama is pushing the kind of public-private partnerships that Kirkwood has with area employers like Clipper Windpower and Acciona Energy. We see community colleges as a critical component of preparing the skilled workers that American businesses need to be competitive.”

Harris said community colleges need to engage in ongoing dialogues with employers to know what skills will be needed in the future. He said America also needs to remove the stigma of a technical education.

“We need both technically-trained and college-trained young people,” Harris said. “This is very sophisticated equipment that people need to learn how to use.

“The students graduating with two-year associate degrees from these programs at Kirkwood are able to get jobs that pay $40,000 to $60,000 a year, which can put a roof over their children’s heads and maybe set aside some money for their retirement.”"

Harris met with students who are completing courses in Kirkwood’s energy production and distribution technologies training program. Joe Hood of Ely, who sustained an injury that left him unable to return to his former line of work, is on track to graduate in May with certifications in wind turbine operation and maintenance.

“I like to do things that some people just won’t do,” Hood said. “i think this will be very beneficial as the renewable energy market grows in the future, I just wish I had been able to do this 20 years ago.”

Harris was asked to support Congressional bills to extend the production tax credit, which is critical to the future nation’s wind energy industry.

Joe Baker, chief executive officer of Acciona Windpower in West Branch, told Harris that unless the production tax credit is extended beyond its expiration of Dec. 31, the wind turbine business in the United States will “crater” in 2013.

“The White House is positioned well on this issue and Iowa is positioned well,” Baker said. ”There’s almost a bipartisan belief nationwide that this should get done, whether it’s after unemployment compensation or the tax cuts being extended.

“You’re talking 70,000 jobs in the United States related to wind energy that will probably go to 30,000 or 40,000 jobs in the next year. That also will cascade to having an impact on the students who are in training here at Kirkwood.”

Harris said the Labor Department is not directly involved with energy issues such as the production tax credit extension, but he will convey the concerns expressed by Iowa wind turbine manufacturers to the Obama Administration, which supports extension of the production tax credit.

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