We recently caught up with Will Rowland, Wind Turbine Rotor Blade Repair and Maintenance Technician about his passion for rock climbing, his career before embarking on his journey as a Blade Tech and his experience at the London Altitec Academy.
From speaking with Will, we learned about what it takes to be a good team member, the challenges of the training at the Academy and the rewards of working in renewable energy.
How did your passion for climbing lead to you choosing a career in turbine repair?
I have a BA degree in Adventure Tourism Management so my educational background and climbing experience means that I have always considered rope access as a career option.
I got into rope access three years ago; becoming a blade technician seemed like the logical progression. Renewables is a growing and developing industry, and you see a lot of big wind farms going up in the Highlands, which have become my stomping ground.
How did you find out that the renewables industry is an option for someone looking into a career in rope access?
I first got involved with wind turbines a few years ago; I started doing photography with a friend who surveys windfarm sites for local governments and other organisations. I soon realised that the renewables sector pays well and provides plenty of work.
Mike Bauermeister, an Altitec technician who I’ve known since college, first recommended the Academy to me. I was keen to develop my rope work experience prior to joining. There’s so much to learn that I wanted the rope half of the job to be as familiar as possible.
What was your time at the Altitec Academy like?
It was really refreshing, more like a holiday than an intensive course with lots of pressure. The challenge was in the amount of information to take in; it was a bit like going back to school. There was a nice mix of the practical and theoretical.
I enjoyed my evenings while I was down in London; I lived in my van and had time to work on it. Unfortunately, I didn’t sleep particularly well. London is a lot noisier than Scotland and I really should’ve taken ear plugs!
Did your work before Altitec involve climbing?
Yes, I used to work on hills and up mountains, showing enthusiasts the ropes – and the best climbs. I did that on a freelance basis for about three years, and it was really fun.
How do you feel your climbing experience has impacted your career as a wind turbine rotor blade technician?
Climbing and rope access work should be second nature to allow you to concentrate on what is going on around you. When working at height, the weather comes in quickly. If climbing comes naturally to you, you have more energy to focus on making sure you’re not busy with a repair task when a storm cloud is on its way.
In what way are the practical skills in your job transferable?
Yes, because at the end of day, if you’re practical and skilled this has a knock-on effect. You end up being able to hang a picture properly and paint your walls really well. But on a serious note, being practical means that you can be more self-sufficient and perform tasks without having to get somebody else to do it. You can turn your hand to anything, problem solve and think in a productive manner.
Do you have any climbing qualifications?
I have quite a few instructor certificates and climbing qualifications – you need to when working outdoors. I’ve done a number of rope rescue workshops. I learned how to rescue people when they’re out climbing and stuck somewhere without a rope. I’m also a member of the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team, one of the busiest teams in the country. We cover Ben Nevis and do a lot of technical and dangerous rescues.
How often do you get to climb these days?
I try to plan in out of season climbing trips as much as I can. Due to the weather and the nature of the wind energy industry, there are periods when you can take a fair amount of holiday.
Depending on where you’re working, there are sometimes opportunities to go for climbs on site, during the long, light, dry evenings.
Where are you speaking to us from?
I’m on holiday, travelling around the Alps in my campervan.
Have you been climbing while you’re out there?
We’ve had some wintery and stormy weather, so I decided to visit a friend in Munich for the weekend instead. I’m enjoying my time off because I know I’m going out to either Australia or South Africa with Altitec in November.
I’d love to go to South Africa next. One of my old friends is a safari guide and it would be great to catch up with him. There are opportunities to climb out there, although of course work will be my main focus.
Where else would you like to climb?
You’re spoilt for choice really, there are so many places. I’m planning a trip out to Nepal with friends next year. We’re going to load up the yaks with all our ropes and tents and head up the Himalayas.
There are always adventures to be had in the Highlands, which are essentially my back yard. – exciting climbs that no one has ever done before.
Is there anything else you want to add?
We’ve spoken a lot about rope work, one of the things we’re taught by the leaders at the Academy is how vital it is to have someone good on the ground. Especially when it’s particularly windy, team work is just so key, as is that person who makes sure your ropes aren’t in a tangle.