It's no mystery that much of the focus for the American economy in the coming years will be on renewable energy sources, with wind power at the forefront. Wind industry experts know that using wind as a major new source of energy will require a huge effort. The entire infrastructure needs to be addressed, including the power grid network and manufacturing capabilities, as well as training the huge numbers of workers needed to build and sustain the wind-generation system. This effort will require an unprecedented collaboration among industry participants from all levels of government, manufacturing, service and education. Snap-on's goal is to lend its global organizational expertise, broad network of relationships, and reputation for quality and innovation to a platform that will bring the entire industry together to meet the work force needs of wind power.

To this end, Snap-on Industrial recently convened an industry consortium at its Kenosha, Wisconsin, manufacturing facility to talk specifically with key members of industry, trade associations, labor groups, government officials and technical colleges about the future needs of both the American and global wind power markets. Some industry experts estimate that manpower requirements to service this market over the next several years could reach 200,000 workers.

"It was our goal to bring together in one room people who not only see the need to train the next generation of technicians in the wind power industry, but people who can make that happen," said Frederick Brookhouse, senior segment sales support manager-education, Snap-on Industrial. "At Snap-on, it's our role to provide the forum and help with the industry perspective. We've done that and now this group promises to be a powerhouse in leading the charge toward maintaining those important sustainable energy resources that are on the drawing board today."

Representatives of the newly formed group, tentatively named Wind Energy Training Consortium (WETC), met for two days starting Jan. 6. Attendees included representatives of Gateway Technical College and Lakeshore Technical College in Wisconsin and Francis Tuttle Technology Center in Oklahoma. Other schools participating in the initiative but unable to attend included Texas State Technical College - Sweetwater and Amarillo College in Texas, and Iowa Lakes Community College in Iowa. Also attending the conference were representatives from Snap-on, Eco Energy, Business Educational Partnerships Group (BEPG) and Jet Stream Tower Services. State energy and commerce representatives from Wisconsin and Oklahoma also attended the two sessions. Labor representation included the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC).

Topics discussed during the conference included partnership development, implementation of wind technician training and tooling requirements. In addition, participants learned about the Snap-on/Gateway Technical College partnership in Wisconsin, a nationally recognized public-private training and education program, and attended a reception at Gateway's Horizon Center in Kenosha.

The group set up four separate sub-committees that will operate autonomously from the main WETC organization. Those committees include student and industry training, tooling solutions, recruiting and partnerships and political action.

"The program has surpassed even our high expectations," said Brookhouse. "There's great enthusiasm and commitment behind this effort. These people are visionaries -- they can see the groundswell of manpower requirements this dynamic industry will require in a very short period of time. Planning needs to happen now and it is."