Power up a career as an instrumentation and controls technician

Electricity is the fuel that powers the world and the demand for it rises every year. That spells career opportunities for workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While the bureau projects slower than average job creation for the power industry through 2016, in part because new technologies have allowed plants to operate with fewer workers, those workers are aging.

According to data from the 2006 American Community Survey, about 54 percent of workers in electric power generation, transmission and distribution were 45 or older; 17 percent were older than 55.

To meet its needs for a highly trained work force in the future, Southern Co. has partnered with Georgia Northwestern Technical College in Rome to create a new Instrumentation and Controls Academy at the college’s Rockmart campus. There also will be an academy at Central Georgia Technical College in Macon.

With 4.4 million customers and more than 42,000 megawatts of generating capacity, Southern Co. is a leading producer of electricity in the United States. The company owns electric utilities in Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Mississippi.

“We have a strong partnership with them, having trained some of their workers through the Quick Start program, and we already had a good training facility in Rockmart,” said Stuart Phillips, vice president of student affairs at Georgia Northwestern Technical College. “The company helped us develop the curriculum, but our instructors will be teaching the classes.”

The program will prepare students to work in the power industry with an associate degree of applied science in instrumentation and controls technology. Students who complete the program will be offered a paid internship with Southern Co. or one of its affiliates.

“That’s an excellent career opportunity, but students would also have the skills to work for any public utility, power plant or manufacturing company that uses electrical instrumentation systems and controls,” Phillips said.

Many of those skills will transfer to jobs in the fast-growing renewable energy field.

Instrument and controls technicians trouble shoot, repair, install and maintain instruments, control devices and electronic equipment. The work is done mostly indoors and can be performed by men and women.

“These jobs require high-level skills,” Phillips said. “Our students will need to be strong academically, as well as technically, so the application process will be competitive.”

To apply, students need a high school diploma or a GED. They also are required to take the COMPASS college placement test and hold the gold-level Work Ready Certificate (which can be obtained at any technical college). Applicants also must pass a background check and a drug test.

“Once they complete their pre-occupational core college classes, we’ll be looking at their GPA for those classes,” Phillips said.

Students who have skills or experience in applied electricity, electronics, process or machine controls, computer networking, or hydraulic and pneumatic systems will have a leg up on the course work. Good math and science skills are a plus, Phillips said.

The occupational curriculum includes hands-on and theory courses in direct current circuits, applied AC and DC electricity, AC and DC motors, solid state devices, electrical print and schematics, motor controls, programmable logic controls and the fundamentals of temperature flow and level.

“We are in the process of accepting our first class and hope to start either this fall or winter,” Phillips said. “The group will move through the lock-step program as a cohort.”

Electric energy occupations pay well. “We’ve heard starting salaries in the $60,000 to $70,000 range,” Phillips said.

For information about the program, call Donna Hopper at 770-684-5696 or go to www.gntc.edu. For the academy in Macon, call 478-757-3400 or go to www.centralgatech.edu.

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