A look around rural West Texas seems to hold limited new opportunities for the job market. Fortunately, rural areas are providing the foundation for a new industry. Wind energy is a profitable business that has taken over much of the land in West Texas.
In the current economy, industries that are able to provide job opportunities are few and far between. Wind energy provides opportunities for people who may seek jobs after graduation or people who are interested in a new industry.
“I think it’s going to be huge out here,” said Matt Baker, dean of University College at Texas Tech University. “It may never be as big as the petroleum industry, but it’s going to be a huge industry employing thousands of people across West Texas.”
With this potential in mind, Baker has helped to develop a wind energy program within University College’s curriculum.
Texas Tech is the first collegiate institution in the country to create multiple degree options in wind energy. University College has instituted an undergraduate minor in wind energy and a graduate certificate in wind energy that can be received along with a master’s degree.
These programs were created in 2008 when the Texas Workforce Commission provided $1 million to University College to educate people in wind energy. The Texas Workforce Commission predicted wind energy would be a booming industry in Texas.
Baker said as a collegiate institution, we need to be proactive in providing the workforce for the industry.
From the money University College received, Baker explained they were able to create the entire curriculum for both the undergraduate minor and the graduate certificate. These two programs have grown from zero students to 115 students in just one year.
Patrick Hughes, assistant dean for academic programs at University College, said the potential for students in the programs will continue to grow with the development of an undergraduate degree.
Hughes explained the graduate degree was the starting point for the creation of the programs. From this, University College was able to develop undergraduate courses for the undergraduate minor. The college hopes to offer a bachelor of science degree in wind energy sometime in the next year.
Baker said most students who have graduated with either the minor or the graduate certificate chose wind energy as a path in order to obtain jobs in the industry upon graduation.
The undergraduate minor in wind energy is currently popular with engineering students, Baker explained. However, he said the college does see other students who have an interest in the industry.
Baker sees the natural fit for agriculture in the wind energy industry. Land owners will need to understand wind energy because they are the people who will have the wind turbines placed on their land. Agriculture communicators will serve as a liaison between land owners and wind energy companies.
“You’re going to see large production farms and jobs related to the production of those farms,” Baker said, describing types of jobs that will be created as the wind energy industry grows.
According to an American Wind Energy Association 2009 study, approximately 85,000 people are currently employed in the wind industry. Occupations vary from turbine component manufacturing, construction and installation of wind turbines, wind turbine operations and maintenance, legal and marketing services, transportation, logistical services and more.
With these numbers in mind, the wind energy industry is turning the heads of many different types of people in search of jobs. The difference in the people may be a rural background or the inspiration for a cleaner nation. Whatever the interest, people educated in wind energy are needed in the wind energy job market. Texas Tech is able to provide the job market for wind energy with employees who have studied wind energy and are able to efficiently work with all aspects of the wind energy industry.