Program set to gain power

NORTHEAST GLENDALE — Glendale Community College is doubling down on the utility industry.

The college is close to expanding its Verdugo Power Academy into a larger and more industry-comprehensive "Southern California Utilities Initiative," which would house the power academy as well as new programs in wind power, energy efficiency and water treatment and distribution, officials said.

The expansion was due in part to projections that indicated the utility industry would be ripe for the unemployed, said Don Nakamoto, labor market specialist for the Verdugo Workforce Investment Board, which is also part of the initiative.

"That is projected to be one of the highest areas of growth on a national level," he said. "I think the power academy really originated out of a lot of labor shortages that were occurring."

The college and its partners were awarded $750,000 from the Department of Energy this month and expect to receive $180,000 through a federal appropriations bill. Combined, the expanded training classes help replenish an aging industry, officials said.

"[We] have come up with a nice training paradigm that's much different than the tradition, because it's not business as usual in the electric power industry," said Scott Rubke, the technology division chair at Glendale Community College. "We're trying to … be a resource center for utility training in Southern California."

Labor forecasts for the water and utility industry indicate a graying workforce, Nakamoto said. While the average age is about 48, many employees have held on to their jobs longer than they probably would have during better economic times.

"At some point, there'll probably be a pretty big shortage occurring, so I think the idea of adding to the power academy is a good long-term idea," Nakamoto said.

The wind turbine and energy-efficiency classes should be a lot less physically demanding than the power academy, which required many graduates to climb a 45-foot-high utility pole, Rubke said.

The bulk of instruction will cover electrical components because much of the industry relies on supervisor control and the use of data. Students will graduate knowing how to manage output, secure, interpret and acquire data, and how to manage emerging and alternative energy sources.

"There's a strong emphasis on renewable energy," Rubke said.

The courses are funded through July 2013, and the certificates can be applied toward a degree from Cal State Northridge, Rubke said.

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