Jack Kujacznski

Jack Kujacznski was on a pre-college track, taking classes at Loy Norrix High School and the Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center.

As graduation approached in 2017, everyone kept asking where he planned to go to college and what would be his major. The only problem: he wasn’t convinced a four-year college program was what he wanted.

“My sophomore year in high school, people started pushing about college, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” Kujacznski said. “I still didn’t know what I wanted to do up until the beginning of my senior year.”

What he did know: he didn’t want to do the same thing every day, he didn’t want a desk job, he didn’t want to stay in Kalamazoo.

It was his KAMSC physics teacher Mike Sinclair who suggested that he check out the Wind Turbine Technician Academy at Kalamazoo Valley Community College.

“I was drawn to it because I knew I’d be out in six months and be able to join the workforce right away,” he said. “And, I liked the idea of not being stuck in one spot. Traveling all around the United States right out of high school was the main selling point.”

Today, he is a traveling turbine technician for NextEra Energy, a division of Florida Power & Light. He’s based in Wilton, N.D., servicing turbines mostly in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. But, he’s also been sent to work on turbines in California, Iowa and Colorado.

“I wanted to be outside and to experience places other than Michigan and Kalamazoo,” he said. “At the end of the day, when you’re getting a turbine up and running and producing power, that feels pretty good.”

Excelsior: Tell me about the Wind Turbine Technician Academy experience at KVCC.

Jack Kujcznski: It’s a unique 24-week program. The first two months were all about safety. We learned about working at heights and using all of the unique tools that we use. After that we worked on electrical systems and hydraulics and studied Ohm’s law and how circuits work. From there, we moved on to wind-specific systems, turbine efficiency, how turbines are put together and all the work that goes into it before they start building them. Then we had two, one-week service trips. We did the biannual maintenance, inspection and repair on two turbines: a 900 KW NEG Micon in Mackinaw City and a 2.5 megawatt Fuhrlander in Cadillac.

E: Were you scared of heights?

JK: Going into it, I wasn’t sure if I was afraid of heights or not. On the very first day, they have you put the harness on and climb up a 30-meter climbing tower. Once I got up there, I peeked over the edged and looked around and thought, “OK. This is fine.”

E: What did you like best about the program?

JK: The whole program is competency based. You practice with your classmates and instructors performing hands-on tasks. When you feel ready to perform in front of the instructor, you run through a task and show how well you understood it and whether you meet the requirements of the competencies built by the industry. There are a number of those you have to complete to be eligible for certification at the end of the program. I was the youngest person in the class of 11.

All of my other classmates had previous experience in construction or working for cable companies. I only had KAMSC schooling and two years of working at Five Guys. That was definitely a difficulty, just the basic mechanical stuff, but when it came to the math in the electronics and hydraulics, I was able to excel in that. I worked out a relationship with my classmates. I’d help them with some of the math and they were able to help me with the more mechanical, technical stuff I didn’t understand.

E: Did you land a job right away?

JK: I graduated from high school in June, started at KVCC in July. I graduated from KVCC in December and by January I moved out to Bismarck, N.D. My company came and interviewed my entire class. I had a job lined up before I graduated. This year and the last few years, it’s one of the fastest growing jobs in America.

E: What is the actual job like?

JK: I work in central maintenance doing things like replacing blade rotors and gearboxes, using the crane to pull apart turbines, bring down parts to repair or swap out and then put them back together with the crane. Even if you’re just packing bags or operating the hoist, it feels good that you’re doing that and putting something toward the job being completed on time and safely.

E: What is the work week like?

JK: We work four weeks on and one week off. About a quarter of my time has been outside of my region. One of my rotations was in California for the whole time. My last rotation was in Wilton the whole time. I’ve also been on a couple of sites in Iowa and Colorado. I make $26.40 an hour.

E: What advice would you have for students?

JK: Don’t feel pressure to go to a four-year college, because, honestly, that’s not a great truth. I don’t want a desk job. I don’t think I could ever have a job with a constant schedule doing the same thing every day. We don’t talk about trade jobs enough. There’s one quote I love, “The world is always going to need people to turn wrenches.”