The warmup to the American energy transition |HEROES 2022

7 April 2022

GWO’s Ralph Savage and Atlas’ Laura Smith share insights into why training the next generation of skilled workforce is the way forward to maximise the potential of the USA offshore wind market.

From the Atlantic to the Pacific as well as the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes – along North America’s coastlines lie an energy resource with the power to create job opportunities and unmatched economic growth – offshore wind.

With the Biden Administration matching the pace of state governments to jumpstart the nascent industry – the USA is currently aiming to develop 30 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030. The U.S. Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that reaching this target will create 83,000 new American offshore wind jobs.

The force multiplier of offshore wind energy is evident, and this implies the need for more skilled, competent talent both onshore and offshore to achieve these targets. The journey is full of opportunities and challenges. Tapping into the diverse set of talent and experience already available in the region is key, and this will be one of the main focal points for developers.

Safety first

The challenge now is to train, and in some cases, retrain this workforce appropriately to understand the risks and hazards involved in working on a wind turbine, explains Ralph Savage, Director, Global Development and Stakeholder Relations, at Global Wind Organisation (GWO), “People will in many cases already have the electrical and mechanical skills in demand from wind energy employers. Others may have decades of experience working offshore in an offshore oil and gas environment. These types of profiles will be hugely important for our industry,” he says.

That being the case, Ralph emphasises the need to ensure unique safety skills are trained as soon as possible for an employee moving into offshore wind, “It doesn’t matter how good a technician you are, if you can’t carry out your work safely. Wind turbines are a completely different domain, so you will need to understand how to work at heights safely or transfer from the base of an offshore wind turbine onto a boat without injuring yourself or a colleague.”

Collaborating for improvement

GWO is a non-profit body founded by leading wind turbine manufacturers and operators. Together with the other members, they share risk information and expertise to create training standards that improve safety and build a competent workforce. According to Ralph, when the offshore sector began to mature in the early 2000s it became clear that the offshore oil and gas training standards, although stringent and built on years of experience, weren’t appropriate to work, for example in a wind turbine due to the different hazards and risks faced on a daily basis by technicians. GWO standards were created to bridge this gap, with the first Basic Safety Training (BST) Standard launched in 2012. “We’ve reached a point now, where the wind industry has its own mature set of standards, and an increasing number of people are moving into renewables. We are collaborating much more closely with other standards bodies, to review and compare one another’s curriculum and constantly improve,” Ralph says.

The industry in North America and developers with experience of delivering offshore wind in Northern Europe have spent a long time learning from each other. “It’s been a very positive experience, at least from my point of view, to see how developers and employers in the United States, work closely with State and Federal bodies, regulators and trades unions to embed a best practice approach. One application of this has been the development of a ready supply of GWO standard training and an acknowledgement by unions that these standards are a sensible step for their members,” Ralph says.

Laura Smith, Business Manager at Atlas Professionals, USA, agrees. “In addition to facilitating the transition of oil and gas experienced candidates to the emerging US offshore wind sector, we also have a unique opportunity to support, and work closely with, the highly skilled unionised labour pool based in key regions such as the Northeast, who are more traditionally associated with onshore construction projects but have fantastic apprenticeship programs in place to support a new generation of worker interested in this exciting energy transition.”

Cultivating competent talent

With two strategically placed offices in the US, Atlas Boston aims to be the preferred recruitment and HR service provider for both professionals and clients and has positioned itself to serve as a regional hub for the booming renewables industry. Together with the team in Houston, Atlas USA is supporting 13 different offshore niches, including marine crew, offshore survey, QHSE and Management & QC services. Laura says, “We have been fortunate to have already been heavily involved in the geotechnical and geophysical survey campaigns for most of the US projects planned and look forward to supporting the upcoming installation and construction activities also.”

The Boston office has a clear plan to support its clients in meeting their offshore wind workforce development needs. “We have an impressive track record providing skilled and competent personnel globally and working with our clients to anticipate the skills shortages, the local content requirements and the training needs to develop an available candidate pool ready to support this exciting industry. The new offshore wind projects will be served by a healthy mixture of homegrown US talent, qualified union labour, transitioned Gulf of Mexico oil and gas professionals with the addition of European expertise,” she shares.

Stressing on the importance of having local contacts as well as years of experience from other renewable energy projects, Laura says, “By teaming up with training providers, Atlas is working closely with interested professionals in transferring their existing skillset to suit the renewables sector to support the anticipated number of jobs that will be created. From our European experience, we understand the training groundwork clearly and we are actively transferring this expertise to the USA.”

Find more industry insights in the latest version of HEROES 2022/23.

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