Emerging offshore wind industry provides careers of the future

Promising news out of Washington last month kicked the reality of rapid U.S. offshore wind growth along America’s coastlines into high gear. In March, the Biden Administration set a national target of developing 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind by 2030. It also announced several complimentary initiatives to spur job growth and support port infrastructure improvements in this emerging industry. Coupled with that, the impending and long-awaited record of decision on Vineyard Wind, the nation’s first utility-scale offshore wind project in federal waters, is on the horizon.  Momentum is building for this brand-new American industry, and offshore wind is set to take off as our country’s next clean energy resource, providing jobs and abundant economic benefits to communities along the way.

Putting steel in the water to deliver clean energy from offshore wind to communities will require a workforce with a diverse skillset to plan, construct, and operate offshore wind farms. In fact, ACP research shows reaching 30 GW of U.S. offshore wind by 2030 will create 83,000 new American jobs. Since 74 different occupations are needed to build, operate, and maintain an offshore wind farm, the possible opportunities for those interested in offshore wind careers are endless.

Beyond skilled trade jobs like ironworkers and vessel operators that are needed to construct offshore wind farms, we will also need a trained professional workforce of engineers, project managers and siting experts, environmental scientists, stakeholder liaisons, and finance professionals, among other occupations to support the expansion of U.S. offshore wind.  I recently spoke with one of the programs educating and preparing students with the skills they need for a professional career in U.S. offshore wind.

In August 2020, the Clean Energy Extension at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass) launched an Offshore Wind Professional Certificate that prepares graduate students and working professionals for careers in offshore wind. Completed in as little as a year, the three-course, nine credit program spans a variety of disciplines within the offshore wind industry, including finance, supply chain and project management, stakeholder engagement, business logistics, environmental impacts, engineering, and grid integration. The certificate program is geared toward individuals who are looking to gain an inter-disciplinary understanding of offshore wind.

River Strong, Associate Director of UMass Clean Energy Extension, co-designed the offshore wind program and says students do not need a background in clean energy to pursue the offshore wind certificate. “We really tried to design it so it can meet everyone’s needs.” River said.  “It’s a broad introduction to the offshore wind process from beginning to end, from project development conceptually and what decommissioning would look like. The idea is to give folks the skills to interface with other offshore wind professionals and understand the vocabulary and concepts,” River said.

Alexia Perides, a current student in the offshore program and a graduate student in UMass Amherst Sustainability Science Program, said the anticipated rapid expansion offshore wind in the coming years piqued her interest in pursuing the certificate. “I have a good grasp on solar but offshore wind is about to come in fast. I thought it would be so great to have a leg up, especially because I went from undergrad into graduate school and have limited professional experience,” she said. “So, this was a way for me to catch up on an industry that I wasn’t a part of and meet people who are in it or transitioning in to find out what’s important to bring to the table when trying to join the offshore wind industry.”

River said a key aspect of the program is that it was built with flexibility and with working professionals in mind. Due to COVID, the program is presently taught 100 percent online. Classes meet collectively one hour per week and students complete the assignments, videos and readings at their own pace. “It’s really designed to be done in your own time,” he said. “We also like to point out that employers will see this as a professional development opportunity, so the student tuition could potentially be reimbursed.”

The offshore wind professional certificate program also provides students with exposure to industry experts through various guest speaking opportunities, which River believes adds to the program’s value proposition. The combination of working professionals and industry guest speakers lets students like Alexia gain first-hand knowledge and apply what she’s reading about in the classes. “What’s great about these courses is that you can bring anything up and people will be willing to discuss it,” Perides said. “We’re all very much learning together and taking from each other’s experiences and knowledge. To have that firsthand experience is helpful.”

As a student in the program himself, River said he was surprised to learn about the number of jobs and fields that are necessary to build an offshore wind farm, including the number of stakeholder perspectives that are considered to build them well. “This level of stakeholder engagement that was pursued was unique and hopefully points to a new way getting energy built in this country. Offshore wind can lead the way,” he said.

According to River, the sheer size of the opportunity that offshore wind will bring to the country should encourage students to pursue further education in this clean energy technology. “The growth of offshore wind over the coming decade is tremendous. Getting in on the front end of that workforce potential can support career growth goals.”

And that’s exactly why Alexia enrolled in the program.  After she completes her graduate studies, Alexia hopes to land a job in the offshore wind industry. “Understanding the similarities and differences of different technologies and what that looks like on the grid is really helpful. I think these courses will set me ahead in many ways from other folks who are looking for those positions [in offshore wind]…Offshore wind is happening, and I want to be somebody who helps facilitate this and makes sure that it is done well, with employment transition in mind and benefits to locals.”

Registration is currently underway for the UMass Amherst Offshore Wind Professional Certificate’s Summer 2021 Online Course: Project Economics, Deployment, and Business Logistics. Those interested in the course, and the offshore wind certificate program, can learn more here.

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