Training targets mechanics, youth and displaced workers

By Erin Voegele | September 20, 2010
Biodiesel training initiatives are gaining traction all over the country. Although some of these programs have been established in traditional biodiesel production areas, others are centered in regions where biodiesel is relatively rare. One program in Iowa is focused on training diesel technicians on the use of biodiesel, while another in Minnesota aims to train displaced workers to work in biodiesel plants. In New Orleans, a local nonprofit is working to develop a program that will train low-income, at-risk youth on biodiesel production and use. In addition, a program led by two Clean Cities departments in North Carolina aims to educate both fleet managers and the general public on the benefits and use of biodiesel.
In Iowa, a training initiative established by the Iowa Biodiesel Board has trained more than 750 diesel technicians and students in the past year. The program, which specifically targets the state's diesel mechanic community and community college instructors, aims to increase professional knowledge on biodiesel and its performance in diesel engines. A grant awarded by the Iowa Power Fund has fully funded the initiative.
During the first year of the program, continuing education courses for diesel mechanics in the workforce were held at all 15 of Iowa's community colleges. A two-day "train the trainer" workshop was also offered to college faculty in September 2009, where instructors were provided with biodiesel curriculum and had the opportunity to interact with industry experts. A follow-up meeting was held this spring, at which instructors shared experiences and received curriculum updates.
The feedback received from students has been overwhelmingly positive, said Jerry Burns, an associate professor at Des Moines Area Community College. He also noted that most students were not familiar with biodiesel's benefits before taking his class. Specifically, he said many students were unaware of biodiesel's enhanced lubrication value and the impact that the fuel can have on exhaust emissions.
When people take their vehicles to a technician or mechanic, they put trust in them so if customers are told biodiesel is bad, they probably won't try it, Burns said. However, if those technicians and mechanics are able to explain the benefits of biodiesel, drivers should be more willing to try it. Students will take the knowledge into the workforce and be better able to educate people on biodiesel, Burns said.
In Minnesota, a program funded by the Governor's Workforce Development Council seeks to provide free biofuels training to up to 44 participants. The one-year training program, which is being developed by Anoka-Ramsey Community College in east-central Minnesota, will select participants from a target population that includes military veterans, displaced workers and incumbent employees. According to Stephen Jones, the college's director of continuing education and customized training, participants are being recruited through the Anoka County Workforce Center and the Central Minnesota Training Partnership Program.
Students participating in the program will receive training in biofuels fundamentals, technical report writing, spreadsheet use, and OSHA safety standards. The course includes existing online course work, experiential lessons within production facilities and virtual tours of existing plants. Students will also perform instructor-led classroom activities and participate in production control computer simulations.
In Louisiana, New Orleans-based nonprofit Operation Reach Inc. formed the "Gulfsouth Youth Biodiesel Project," which aims to provide green job training to youth who reside in local low-income communities. According to Hamilton Simons-Jones, Operation Reach's chief development officer, the GYBP is now in its second year. "We originally formed this project about a year and a half go to accomplish two things," he said. "One is to be a small, biodiesel social enterprise that converts used cooking oil into biodiesel fuel as a local, regional business run by the nonprofit. The second is to develop green job training and expose local youth to biodiesel to really use that as an introduction not only to overall environmental awareness, but also more concrete job training."
The GYBP program graduated its first class of 15 students in April, and the next class of students will begin the program this fall. According to Simons-Jones, the first class actually helped assemble the teaching facility, which includes a biodiesel plant. The experience allowed the participating students to earn a construction certification through the National Center for Construction, Education and Research. "[The students] received instruction on pipe fitting, plumbing and carpentry," Simons-Jones continued. "They were a part of helping us build out this teaching facility that produces biodiesel, and then learning about how that all works as well, of course." Depending on the amount of funding that is received, approximately 30 students will be able to participate this fall.
While the Minnesota and New Orleans projects aim to provide training to disadvantaged youth and workers, an initiative lead by two Clean Cities offices in North Carolina is working to educate fleet managers and the general public on the benefits and use of biodiesel. The program, which was funded by United Soybean Board grant, includes four workshops. Each of the Clean Cities departments is hosting two regional training sessions; one aimed at fleet managers, and one aimed at the public.
Two workshops held in the Charlotte, N.C., area featured a local biodiesel expert, a panel of fleet managers already using biodiesel, and a representative of the Greater Charlotte Region Biofuel Facility Project, said Centralina Clean Fuels Coalition Assistant Coordinator Emily Parker. Two similar events held in Raleigh featured an expert from the North Carolina Biofuels Center, a representative of a local community college and a local biodiesel producer. According to Kathy Boyer, the Triangle Clean Cities Coordinator in Raleigh, her office anticipates applying for additional grant funding in the next year to support the development of more workshops. "I think maybe in this next round we will target heavy-duty truck drivers, convenience store owners and people who would be using the fuel in the public sector," she said.
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