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Thermo King collaborates with the University of Minnesota to launch the nation’s first graduate certificate program in electrification.

In a bid to foster a sustainable future, Minnesota is steering its manufacturing sector towards electrification through a groundbreaking initiative. Thermo King, a company with a longstanding history in producing diesel-powered refrigeration and heating units, is at the forefront of this transition, pivoting towards electrification of its product lines.

Recognizing the necessity for skilled personnel in this evolving landscape, Thermo King reached out to the University of Minnesota’s Technological Leadership Institute to co-develop a 12-credit engineering electrification graduate certificate, touted as the first of its kind in the nation.

This collaboration birthed the Minnesota Center for Electrification Opportunity, a state-funded initiative launched in July to facilitate the training of workers in companies advancing towards electrification and hybrid systems. The center is envisioned as a hub to accelerate the pace of electrification, fostering employment growth in Minnesota and preparing its workforce for opportunities spanning utilities to renewable energy companies.

Jodie Greising, the director of the Minnesota Job Skills Partnership at the Department of Employment and Economic Development, emphasized the critical role of this initiative in ensuring Minnesota businesses remain competitive. It aims to upskill and reskill workers, including technicians, electricians, and engineers, to adeptly navigate the emerging technologies.

Grant Ovsak, the spearhead of the Electrification Center of Excellence at Thermo King Americas, highlighted the parallel between their transition and the automotive industry’s shift from diesel to sustainable power sources. He underscored the inclusive nature of the certificate program, encouraging participation from employees across various disciplines, including human resource managers and project management employees, to foster a comprehensive understanding of the new technical lexicon associated with electrification.

“We’re moving towards a sustainable power source from diesel, which is the same transition as the automotive industry,” he said. “We have a large employee base that needs to be brought along for that journey.”

The certificate program, which is expected to lay the groundwork for a future master’s degree, offers hands-on experiences, allowing students to grapple with real-world challenges such as thermal runaway in electrical systems. The courses, crafted to meet academic standards, are delivered by professors of practice, including professionals from the United States Army Corps of Engineers, Toro, and Polaris.

John Hurst, senior director at Toro, a company with a substantial electric products portfolio, expressed optimism about the university’s role in delivering the classes and offering credits, anticipating it would resonate well with ambitious employees. The program is seen as a sustainable pathway for continuous employee training, with Toro planning to encourage rather than mandate participation.

Despite the promising outlook, the initiative faces hurdles, including attracting students in a tight labor market and keeping pace with the rapidly evolving field of electrification. Travis Thul, a senior fellow at the Technological Leadership Institute, voiced concerns about the current labor market dynamics, where many are content in their roles and reluctant to invest time in further education.

As Minnesota navigates these challenges, the state stands on the cusp of a transformative era, with the Minnesota Center for Electrification Opportunity poised to play a pivotal role in shaping a workforce adept at leveraging the opportunities presented by electrification. According to the Energy News Network, the center is gearing up to host an “Electroposium” on October 9, offering training and insights into the future of electrification, marking a significant step in Minnesota’s journey towards a sustainable, electrified future.

Eunice is a sustainability writer whose passion is sharing accessible eco-friendly practices with GreenCitizen's global readership. She enjoys birdwatching during her downtime, often deriving inspiration from nature's resilience. An enthusiastic cyclist, she is also an ardent advocate of eco-friendly transport.

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