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Ivy Tech gets $4.7M energy grant to retrain 1,500 workers

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Ivy Tech Community College has received $4.7 million in federal stimulus funds to retrain over the next three years as many as 1,500 displaced workers with skills needed for so-called smart-grid electrical technologies.

The Crossroads Smart Grid Training Program will offer Ivy Tech associate’s degrees in such areas as systems management and security, information technology, power systems engineering and line work.

Purdue University, which is helping Ivy Tech develop the program, will offer further smart-grid training as part of its bachelor’s programs in engineering and technology.

“It’s important for the state of Indiana to develop its energy capacity in terms of its work force training,” said Rebecca Nickoli, Ivy Tech’s vice president of work force and economic development. She added, “There’s an aging work force and yet there’s a significant increase in technology in this area. That just kind of combines for a perfect storm.”

Ivy Tech plans to begin the new classes within months, Nickoli said, and it hopes to keep the programs running beyond the three-year life of the grant.

The money comes from the U.S. Department of Education, which doled out more than $99 million to promote training in similar “green jobs,” which were a major campaign pledge of President Obama's. Schools such as Ivy Tech and Purdue are contributing another $95 million in services to the program, which aims to train 30,000 displaced workers nationwide.

The smart grid represents an attempt to limit spikes in power demand, such as on the hottest days of summer, while also more easily integrating alternative energy sources such as wind and solar, according the U.S. Department of Energy.

Such a grid would rely on numerous technologies, including consumer appliances that can switch on and off based on the price of electricity at that moment. Also, power-grid operators, using sensing technologies that check consumer power usage 30 times a second, could control the flow of power more efficiently.

Ivy Tech said it would look to industry partners to help its training mesh with current needs of utilities and manufacturers of smart-grid equipment. One of those partners with be Energy Systems Network, an initiative of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, which is focused on building Indiana’s clean technology industry.

Paul Mitchell, CEO of Energy Systems Network, said Indiana has assets that could help it outpace national growth rates in the emerging clean-technologies sector. “The challenge is preparing our work force to take advantage of these opportunities, and meet the needs of industry,” he said in a written statement.

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