Mass subsidies focus on equity in the offshore wind workforce


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A Massachusetts clean energy agency has awarded $ 1.6 million in grants to eight offshore wind workforce training programs, each targeting a specific barrier that could prevent people of color and people from low income to seek jobs in the booming industry.

“We wanted to improve the game a bit,” said Bruce Carlisle, general manager of offshore wind at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the organization that awarded the grants. “We made a conscious effort in 2021 to focus exclusively on this problem. “

The 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project, slated to become the country’s first large-scale offshore wind facility, received its last major federal approval in May, kicking off an industry expected to be a major employer and economic engine in the years to come. to come.

The offshore wind industry could create up to 83,000 jobs in the United States and inject $ 25 billion a year into the economy by 2030, according to analysis by the American Wind Energy Association. With some of the country’s windiest waters off the New England coast, the region is expected to reap significant financial benefits.

Faced with this opportunity, many community and environmental groups lobbied for people of color, low-income communities and other marginalized groups to have an equal chance to participate in the benefits of a promising new sector. The existing energy system has overloaded communities of color, which often face more pollution and higher rates of respiratory disease, said Susannah Hatch, director of the Clean Energy Coalition for the Environmental League of Massachusetts . A diverse and inclusive workforce could help repair some of this damage, she said.

“As we move towards a carbon-free world, we need to understand how this new system can be fair and not repeat the sins of the past,” Hatch said.

When designing this call for grants, the clean energy center stressed that it wanted proposals that went beyond the simple creation of a training course. He wanted programs that would identify and address specific barriers to successfully entering the offshore wind industry.

Industry awareness and training

Some grant recipients focus on raising awareness of the offshore wind industry and the jobs it will create. Browning the Green Space, a Massachusetts nonprofit, for example, is partnering with Scottish clean energy consultancy Xodus to develop education and engagement programs aimed at demystifying an industry so new that few people know a lot about how it works.

Other industries in Massachusetts have left people of color behind as they’ve grown. Kerry Bowie, founder of Browning the Green Space, wants to make sure the pattern doesn’t repeat itself with offshore wind.

“How is it going for us in the biotechnology, banking, financial space? ” he said. “We’re not saying everyone in space has to be black, brown or female. But can we just get our fair share? “

Building Pathways, a Boston-based pre-apprenticeship program, will use its $ 250,000 grant to run an offshore wind-focused version of its 200-hour training program that introduces participants to the trades, unions and system. learning. Recruitment will focus on people of color, women and residents of environmental justice communities.

The aim is to familiarize students with the full range of trades, how the offshore wind industry will create opportunities in these fields, and how to pursue an apprenticeship in any of these fields.

“People might be familiar with the types of trades they see in their homes, like plumbers and electricians, but there are so many other trades,” said CEO Mary Vogel. “It’s just a matter of making sure they have a clear understanding of all the opportunities available to them. “

Transportation and financial assistance

Other beneficiaries are tackling financial and logistical obstacles. For many people in grant-priority communities, job training can waste valuable time when they could work and earn much-needed income. For others, simply securing transportation to a training site can be a major challenge.

The Asian American Civic Association received $ 250,000 to support a partnership with the Bristol Community College Offshore Wind Energy Technology Certificate Program. The grant will finance a shuttle to transport trainees to training sites and allow the association to offer an allowance to trainees during their studies.

“You can provide technical training, but if you don’t take care of everything else – their transportation, their social services – all the little things can lead to failure,” said Ed Hsieh, COO at the Asian American Civic Association.

The Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology takes a similar approach, using grants to support students in the Renewable Energy Engineering Technology program. The median household income of the school’s students is $ 24,000, so financial support is essential, said Kristen Hurley, director of strategic partnerships at the institute.

The courses will prepare students to work at a technician level in the offshore wind or solar industries. The clean energy center award will allow the school to offer stipends as well as bonuses to students who complete the program with at least a B average. The school will also connect incoming students in the field of renewable energies with mentors from the University of Massachusetts Lowell School of Engineering, to help them explore their options for furthering their undergraduate studies.

“Almost all of our students work when they’re at Benjamin Franklin and making school a priority can be a challenge,” said Hurley. The stipends could mean “maybe they don’t have to work that many hours, or maybe they can make college a top priority in their life.”

Kindergarten to Grade 12 program

One grant recipient, Self Reliance of Bourne, takes a particularly long view, using the money to implement an introductory offshore wind industry program for kids from kindergarten through high school. The program includes hands-on opportunities to design and test turbine blades, teacher training, and field trips to locations such as a blade testing facility and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy campus, which offers Renewable Energy Systems Engineering Course.

The program will focus on working with students from economically struggling cities as well as those located in tribal communities in Southeast Massachusetts.

“We need to develop the pipeline, a multigenerational pipeline,” said Executive Director Megan Amsler. “That’s definitely our goal – to get kids interested in this stuff. “

Taken together, the programs chosen for the grants have the potential to make a noticeable difference in the diversity and equity of the emerging offshore wind workforce, said Carlisle of the Clean Energy Center.

“These eight awards,” he said, “they’re not just going to make a difference, they’re going to start to make a difference.”

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