Develop the professional skills needed by employees in the whole bioenergy production chain.
The aim of the educational environment is to develop the professional skills needed by employees in the bioenergy production chain. The educational environment covers the whole value chain of bioenergy production “From Stump to Boiler”. The educational environment is run by REDU, the largest vocational education provider in Lapland. Students from various departments of the vocational school are operating the harvesters, the vehicles transporting of timber from the forest to the terminal, chippers and terminals, the combustion of the biomass and the spreading of ash for fertilising new forests. The student body is made of both youth and adult students with a large variation in skill levels and experience.
The major issue in bioenergy education has been in the training of energy production plant specialists. Students are ineligible to do apprenticeships at energy production facilities, due to strict security rules. This makes passing the knowledge and practical skills for students difficult. Apprenticeship education makes it difficult to send professionals to further education at the school, as this would incur costs for the employers and the employees who are learning new skills.
The education is implemented through short-term local teaching periods, which interact with working in a real-life working environment (district heating plant). The learning environment integrates students from the various sectors from gathering biomass, to logistics, to energy production.
The educational district heating plant is run by 2 members of staff, a full-time teacher and a specialist. The plant is not profitable and requires money from REDU (around 25-50,000 euros annually). REDU is owned by 6 municipalities of Lapland and is funded by them and through state subsidies.
Evidence of success
The learning environment is unique in its scope, as it is student-run and covers the supply chain from harvester use to logistics to refining biomass and producing energy. This gives the student a learning experience of every part of the production and usage chain. Graduates are in full employment. REDU has been able to develop the efficiency of the educational plant, and students have been able to use these skills in their jobs to improve the efficiency and lifetime of district heating plants.
Attracting enough students that are able to attend school for more than two weeks in a row is difficult. This makes designing teaching modules and transferring knowledge much more difficult. Tasks vary between winter (heating season) and summer (maintenance work).
Potential for learning or transfer
Building an educational environment is a way to empower students and help them gain skills that might be impossible to learn only through theory, or during employment, due to lack of teaching resources on the job. For district heating plant operators, it is impossible to practice failure management and problem solving in the actual working environment, as the local cities are dependent on the heat produced by the actual district heating plants.
Public authorities responsible for vocational education around Europe could learn from this model to develop skills for their workforce with regards to the specific needs of their energy sector. Educated professionals can reduce expenses, lengthen lifecycles and reducing in emissions in district heating plants.
REDU aims to export the model abroad. Currently a simulation district heating plant is in development, where the actual existing plant has been modelled so the teaching can be provided virtually.
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