Oklahoma’s Technology Centers Ride the Alternative Fuel Wave
Cars using alternative fuel – natural gas, electricity, propane, biofuel – are the wave of the future, but they’re going to need qualified technicians to maintain them.
Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education’s technology centers are stepping in to provide workers both to convert vehicles to alternative fuels and to service them.
Two of the state’s technology centers teach students to work on vehicles using alternative fuel, and a third technology center plans to add a program.
Autry Technology Center in Enid and Tulsa Technology Center both offer alternative fuel training programs. Kiamichi Technology Center recently upgraded the automotive facilities at its Poteau campus so it can go ahead with alternative fuel training as soon as funding allows.
“Any time there’s big news or developments about CNG, we see an increase in interest and enrollment. There’s a lot of buzz on the streets and many questions,” said Melissa Jenlink, Autry Technology Center director of communications and marketing. “Autry saw a big interest when OnCue opened its CNG station in Enid in January.”
Autry offers a program that teaches the basics of compressed natural gas installation in vehicles and prepares students to take the state alternative fuel technician natural gas vehicle certification test. Students who have already achieved the technician level in auto mechanics can take the certification test at the end of the class.
The technology center has seen approximately a 300 percent increase in CNG training in the last three years, Jenlink said, adding that Autry is exploring the possibility of two other courses: gaseous fuels and inspections and an installation class.
Tulsa Tech’s program goes beyond CNG to also include propane, electric, hybrid and biofuel vehicles. Seventeen students enrolled in the full-time program in 2011-12, the first year Tulsa Tech offered the program, said Leo Van Delft, Tulsa Tech transportation program coordinator. Pre-enrollment for 2012-13 is about the same, he added.
Tulsa Tech started its alternative fuel programs with short-term classes to prepare students to take the state CNG technician test, Van Delft said.
“The demand for the short-term CNG technician certification has been consistent,” he said. “Marketing the full-time program has evolved as student recruiters have developed a better understanding of the program and the job opportunities for students and can better explain them.”
The technology center plans to add a CNG tank inspection short-term course.
“We also offer customized onsite training through our Business and Industry Services division and have provided CNG technician certification prep training for several local companies, including Crane Carrier, Tulsa Transit and CASECO Manufacturing,” Van Delft said.
Students completing the full-time program are prepared to take the national Automotive Service Excellence CNG technician certification, which includes electrical and engine performance.
Kiamichi Technology Center’s Poteau campus is joining Tulsa Tech and Autry in alternative fuels training programs because of the growing market for CNG, said instructor Lonnie Prewitt.
The technology center hopes to begin its program, focusing on CNG, in spring or fall 2013, said Doug Hall, Poteau/Spiro campus director.
The program will train students “to retrofit, maintain or repair CNG systems to the state guidelines,” Prewitt explained. After completing the program, the students will be able to take the state CNG technician certification test.
Although the program will initially focus on CNG, Prewitt said he will obtain other certifications or licenses if needed to improve the program.
ODCTE Technical Program Supervisor John Day said he expects more technology centers to join the effort to teach students to work on alternative fuel vehicles.
“Over the next year, I fully expect to see a sharp incline of schools offering this type of training throughout our state due to the strengthened natural gas vehicle industry and infrastructure as well as increased natural gas production,” he said.
Randy Catlett, left, and Ed Daniels, students in Tulsa Technology Center’s alternative fuels program, examine CNG automotive components.
Laura Wilson, Editor/Writer