US Offshore Wind

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Offshore Wind – Creating Jobs – but is there a Skills Gap?

The US offshore wind paradigm will mean the creation of jobs in the USA and in the global supply chain, but there are various factors involved. The US has its own culture and specific issues that mean that it will not be a straightforward technology and skills transfer from Europe to North America. For example, the Jones Act with its restrictions on what ships can work in US waters is a major difference; in the EU, in most cases there are national laws but with respect to the renewables industry and the electricity market there have been significant attempts to harmonise regulations.

Conversely, the US States have their own laws, and also the interaction with the federal government may cause problems: for example, the individual states control the seas up to 3 miles off the coast, while the federal government is responsible for three miles out to the 200 mile limit. It is not hard to imagine a wind array which crosses that border, with consequent jurisdictional confusion.

The issue of labour is an important one, which covers three phases of an OW farm’s lifespan: planning and development, construction and installation, and O & M. The operations and maintenance of platforms are long-term jobs with wind turbines having a planned lifespan of 25 years and so would be expected to be based on the coast nearby. Other jobs such as installation, water operations, and land-side sub-station construction, for example, are more short term, and skilled workers will move from site to site as required.

Training will also be necessary, and the US education sector will be expected to provide skilled and trained workers in the future, although in the beginning it is to be expected that many offshore wind workers will come from abroad where they have learned their profession.

Jobs and Economic Development Model (JEDI)

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has created a series of models to analyse and predict the effect of renewable energy industries on jobs and the economy, called JEDI. This analysis provides the DOE with an assessment of the value, impact, and validity of various scenarios of renewable energy growth. The models produce estimates of jobs, earnings, and economic output, which can be used to assist decision making.

The 2018 Massachusetts Offshore Wind Workforce Assessment used JEDI Offshore Wind models to assess the following impacts and needs of the industry in that state – we can use it to extrapolate to the whole of the continental USA.

Jobs Created During the Three Phases:

The development of an OS Wind farm requires the support of a diverse group of workers in a variety of occupations in each of the three phases: Planning and Development, Construction and Installation, and Operations and Maintenance (O&M). Water transportation workers will be in high demand throughout all phases. These workers play a crucial role by transporting people and materials to the wind farm and patrolling the exclusion zone during construction. Engineering occupations are also crucial throughout all three phases and are concentrated in supervisory roles, requiring a deep understanding of how turbine systems function and interact.

Engineers are supported by teams of engineering technicians, who, among other tasks, collect site assessment data during the planning and development phase and perform maintenance during the O&M phase.

Professional and scientific occupations, including civil, mechanical, electrical, and environmental engineers, geoscientists, zoologists and wildlife biologists, budget analysts, legal professionals, and cost estimators, and others are required throughout the project, but play a leading role during the planning and development phase. These occupations support wind farm development through activities such as site assessments, negotiation of power purchase agreements, regulatory compliance, and development of plans to mitigate environmental impacts.

The analysis using JEDI of the building and operation of a 1600 MW wind farm concluded that the first two phases would create between 2,279 and 3,171 direct job-years, plus another 7000- 9000 supply chain and local economy jobs, and O & M would create a lower number of 964 – 1,748 annual job-years during the operation of the wind farm array. Many of these would be new workers as it is uncertain whether workers will be able or willing to transfer from O & G or fishing industries.

The report says, “O&M jobs represent the greatest potential for long-term employment in Massachusetts, as O&M jobs are most likely to be filled by local workers and may last the entire duration of the wind farm’s 20- to 25-year design life.”

Workforce Gaps

There are significant areas where there may be insufficient workers available, either locally, or throughout the United States. There are several high priority occupations within OSW which look to be under-supplied. These include skilled construction workers, welders, water transportation workers, and turbine operation technicians.

Note that even if there were skilled land-based workers available, working offshore is a more hazardous environment and workers need Health and Safety training in order to accomplish their tasks competently.

The study identified these jobs as being high priority:

  • Water transportation workers
  • Trade workers (e.g. iron/steel workers, welders)
  • Operations and maintenance technicians 
Health and Safety

The challenges and hazards of working offshore necessitate particular training, which is more thorough and comprehensive than for land-based operations. Various bodies have input into occupational safety in this area. Having to train a workforce from scratch, is another cost which will have to be factored into wind development projects.

Occupational Training

The most obvious avenue to creating a viable workforce is to train US citizens. The country has a large educational establishment in both public and private spheres. The Global Wind Organisation (GWO) has provided a network of certificated training providers. In 2016 they instituted a Basic Technical Training (BTT) certificate. As this is supported by major turbine manufacturers it looks likely to become the industry standard for wind installation and operation technicians. In 2018 there were no training providers who offered this course in the USA – though  this could be expected to change. Several Massachusetts Higher Education establishments offer certificates or degrees in aspects of Renewable Energy engineering which will be applicable to offshore wind.


There is likely to be a skills gap in the early years of US Offshore wind. Sufficient personnel are not likely to be available from the Oil & Gas industry, nor the fishing industry. Although foreign nationals are likely to be prevalent in early days, this is not a complete solution. Therefore the states where wind farms are being planned will need to have a training plan in place to provide workers for the vacancies in the labour force, in particular, water transportation workers, trade workers, and O&M technicians. The operations roles are career-lifetime secure jobs and would be a source of stability in coastal areas which depend on fluctuating income from fisheries and tourism.

There will also need to be significant investment in Health and Safety programmes to ensure that the workers are trained and credentialed to international standards, particularly for work offshore, where the hazards are greater.


Next steps

Each year, offshore wind project leaseholders, policy makers and offshore supply chain businesses meet at the US Offshore Wind 2019 (USOW19) conference and exhibition (June 10-11, Boston) to discuss matters relating to project development  and supply chain expansion.

It is the world stage for the US offshore wind power industry and the premier networking destination for businesses that are looking to secure market share as a developer or supplier. If you want to invest, find partners, develop projects or enter the US offshore wind supply chain – the USOW19 event has it all covered in just two days!

2000 offshore wind professionals attend each year, both Active market players and New market players attend from offshore wind project developers, financiers, legal advisory services, policymakers, EPCI’s, OEM’s, Vessels (design, construction and operations), shipyards, fabricators, geoservices, component manufacturers, technology providers and many more.

USOW19 facilitates supply chain partnering through the event matchmaking app called WindLink. This matchmaking service allows all registered delegates to pre-arrange meetings with other attendees based on what they are looking for and what they have to offer, in the scope of the US offshore wind power supply chain. During the 2-day event, delegates can use the matchmaking service to meet hundreds of local and international offshore wind professionals. 

Click here to read more about the #USOW19 event. 

By Julian Jackson

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