Centralia College's Center of Excellence for Clean Energy exceeds hiring goal

Grant helps train workers needed in the energy industry

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The Pacific Northwest Center of Excellence for Clean Energy, a program hosted by Centralia College that trains and places students in energy industry jobs around the region, has exceeded its hiring goal set as part of a $5 million federal Department of Energy grant.

The center placed 336 workers in various energy jobs throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah.

The grant grew to $12 million with matching funds from energy and manufacturing employers, organized labor and education partners within the five-state region. The funding helped with labor market research, open source smart grid training and simulated training labs throughout the region.

The 336 workers -- a record-breaking number, according to PNCECE -- found jobs as ground crew, substation operator apprentices, plant operator trainees, boiler operators, energy analysts, meter technicians and hydro utility workers.

"And the numbers are growing," PNCECE spokeswoman Monica Brummer said, noting three students recently got jobs at TransAlta.

Brummer said the center originally planned to place 234 students and train 1,215, but ended up teaching 5,984.

Following its success, PNCECE applied for a $24 million federal Department of Labor grant to help fund power grid security training, system operations and customer service in energy.

"Because of how successful we have been with the grant, we continue to seek more funding and to keep our education going," Brummer said. "There's more work to do."

Today's energy customer service representatives, Brummer said, need more training in technology to explain issues to workers and the public. Additionally, she said, the power grid needs enhanced protections as technology progresses, much like cyber security.