Wind Turbines dot the landscape across Canada, standing 85 metres (280 feet) tall. That means a lot of the repair and maintenance involves people working high in the air to service these clean energy sources. Training is an important element and Work-Based Learning Consortium (WBLC) has created an introductory Wind Turbine Blade Repair program to assist in training new or recent hires. Funding for WBLC was provided by the Future Skills Centre.

Unknown to Most – Blades Require Repairs

“It’s a pretty severe environment for wind turbines,” says Aaron Miller, President of Composites Canada, which provides composite material to companies in many industries across Canada. “These blades don’t look like they’re doing much, lazily trundling away but, just given their sheer size, the tip speed can reach 100+ mph (160+ km/h), sometimes double that. So, you get a lot of erosion (caused by) anything that happens to be in the air (striking the spinning blades). You also get ice damage falling from an adjacent blade, among other things.”

“In many industries, you can bring the product inside for a repair. This is extremely impractical with wind turbine blades  – Aaron Miller, President of Composites Canada

Frank Sabatier, Wind Technical Manager at Mistras Group Inc., agrees with the importance of doing a lot of work out in the field.

“Many companies don’t want to take the blades down unless they absolutely have to because it takes a five-figure sum to take them down and put them back up, involving cranes and other things,” says Sabatier, who works with technicians both in the U.S. and Canada. “Add in the logistical challenges with road access, platforms, and much more to overcome.”

Skilled Workers Required to Repair Blades

Training new workers and keeping technicians up to speed is an ongoing challenge and comes in several forms.

Sabatier says there are some courses offered by technical colleges, but a large portion of the training is done directly by companies using their own training curriculum. Training is also offered by original equipment manufacturers (OEMS) who build the wind turbines.

“Most big OEMs are located in the U.S., so if a technician were to start working for Siemens or GE, they would receive their training in the U.S., because Canada just doesn’t have the facilities,” says Sabatier.

Training in composite materials is an area that Miller believes could use some assistance.

“There’s not a lot of training content or training material for the composite industry. Composites pop up in all kinds of strange and unexpected ways,” says Composites Canada’s Miller. “Wind turbines are fairly obvious because there aren’t very many other suitable materials to make these blades.”

WBLC Introduces an Upskilling Option

WBLC launched a pilot entry level Wind Turbine Blade Repair training program in 2023 that focuses on working with composite materials. The training was offered in conjunction with Relay Education, which delivers renewable energy and environmental education and training programs in classrooms and communities.

The WBLC program is designed to initiate people into the wind turbine industry. It covers applications and equipment used in wind turbine blades, mathematics, and understanding work documents.

Composite Canada’s Miller worries that there are gaps in the knowledge of working with composites in the field, so he welcomed the opportunity to work with WBLC on constructing a new entry level training program.

“This is a great program for a level-one person to learn about the industry,” say Reema Duggal, a lead for the virtual learning initiatives with Work-Based Learning Consortium (WBLC), who designs much of the e-Learning. “The reality is that there is no training for wind blade repair, locally, or that we can find in Canada. Each of the companies does their own training. So, this is a way to entice people to come to the industry and find out what the job is all about.

“For people interested in the industry, if you’ve gone through this our training, you are a much more valued applicant,” adds Duggal.

Trainees Found the Upskilling Program Valuable

“This WBLC program was definitely very helpful with a few videos and also quizzes that were at the end of each unit and that definitely helped me gain more knowledge,” says Justin Lau, a York University environmental studies student, who took a Relay Education Wind Energy Operations course at Holland College in PEI and then completed the WBLC training.

“I’ve had a great introduction to the industry for wind turbine blade repairs and I am definitely way more confident in doing it in real life” – Justin Lau, Relay Education Wind Energy Operations student

“I have not worked with fibreglass or carbon fibre or any type of composites before, but I think with this eLearning course, I’ve had a great introduction to the industry for wind turbine blade repairs and I am definitely way more confident in doing it in real life. I’ve learned a lot of the basics, especially with the composition of wind turbine blades and also a lot on the fibreglass repairing units.”

Lau says he’s likely to pursue a career in the wind industry, starting out as a wind turbine blade repair technician.

Another student, Ahmad Jabar has a background in electronics and is very interested in Green Energy. He also took Relay Education’s Wind Energy Operations course and then also followed up with the WBLC program.

“It was very helpful indeed! I really enjoyed every part of it and got to learn about many concepts that I had no idea about before enrolling in the program,” says Jabar. “Knowing about the whole process for Blades manufacturing was insightful and informative. It was interesting to learn about the difference in fiberglass and carbon fiber.

“It was surprising and intriguing to know about the procedure on how to fix blades defects while hanging in the air,” adds Jabar. “I think e-Learning is very convenient and it helps specifically when having busy schedules. To study at my own pace helped do more with my time.”

Work is planned to expand the new Wind Turbine Blade Repair program and develop other programs required by the Wind Turbine industry.