By Ed Brennen
The offshore wind industry could generate more than 80,000 jobs in the U.S. by 2030, according to an assessment by the American Wind Energy Association. Many of those construction and operations jobs will be in Massachusetts, where several major offshore wind projects are already underway.
As part of an effort to keep those workers safe, UMass Lowell was recently awarded a $300,000 grant from the commonwealth to provide construction safety and general industry training through The New England Consortium (TNEC), a worker health and safety training institute based at the university.
The grant was awarded by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) through its Offshore Wind Works program, a workforce development initiative. It enables TNEC to provide 30 hours of in-person and online training over the next two years to students who plan to work as engineers, technicians, field supervisors or project managers in the burgeoning offshore wind energy industry — and to anyone else employed in the field.
“This is a niche market, but the anticipation is that it’s going to be booming,” says TNEC’s David Turcotte, principal investigator on the grant. “This positions us to be a key player in this market as it develops moving forward.”
Students who complete the 21-course program will receive certification from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for its 30-hour training program. Turcotte expects to provide training to “at least” 375 students over the next two years, beginning as early as this fall, and drawing not only energy engineering majors at UML, but also other students from around the state.
Last year, UML partnered with the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT) in Boston on a $241,300 grant through MassCEC to develop academic pathways that increase the participation of underrepresented populations in the offshore wind industry. Turcotte says students pursuing BFIT’s two-year associate degree in renewable energy technology could benefit from the training. So, too, could those pursuing a graduate-level offshore wind professional certificate at UMass Amherst.
Another potential market, Turcotte says, is managers and supervisors from offshore wind supply chain companies.
“Anyone with management responsibilities needs to be aware of these issues, because they're ultimately responsible for anyone who is doing any work in an area where there's potential hazards,” he says.
Since the port city of New Bedford, Massachusetts, is emerging as a hub of the state’s offshore wind construction, Turcotte has already connected with workforce development career centers there to offer the training.
The UML grant was one of nine awarded through MassCEC totaling $3.8 million, all earmarked for the creation of innovative workforce training programs to increase access to clean energy careers, education and training. The grant funding received support from offshore wind developers Mayflower Wind and Vineyard Wind.
“We can be confident that our workforce will be well-equipped with knowledge, safety and certifications needed to work in this specialized field,” said MassCEC CEO Jen Daloisio in announcing the grants.
Gov. Charlie Baker added, “This grant is part of a series of proposals to continue putting resources into our very robust educational community so that we can create the talent, skill base and workforce we need to maintain our leadership position in clean energy and offshore wind.”
Turcotte says Rist Institute for Sustainable Energy Co-director Christopher Niezrecki and Mechanical Engineering Department Chair Christopher Hansen were both instrumental in bringing the grant proposal together.
“It was a collaborative effort within the campus and also outside of The New England Consortium that helped make this happen,” says Turcotte, who sees the university as being “well-positioned” for future funding opportunities.
While ensuring the health and safety of offshore wind workers is the paramount concern of the training, Turcotte says it has implications for the growth of the industry as a whole.
“What often happens with a booming industry is that people are hired quickly and safety generally ends up being one of the last things people worry about,” he says, noting that around 60 workers die on the job in Massachusetts each year. “If workers are getting injured or killed on the job, that could disrupt the development of the offshore wind industry. This is the reality.
“We're trying to ensure that workers don't die in the workplace, or get seriously injured or have serious health consequences.”