Building a Diverse Trades Work Force for the Offshore Wind Industry

David Borrus, Business Manager, Pile Drivers Local 56

One of the major benefits of the emerging offshore wind energy industry in Massachusetts is that it will generate career opportunities for Cape Cod and South Coast residents. While the exact number of jobs within the burgeoning industry vary, they can generally be subcategorized as follows:  construction, operations and maintenance, supply chain management, environmental oversight, and onshore administration. In a marked change from past job creation “booms,” state agencies like MassCEC and the wind energy developers themselves, notably Vineyard Wind 1, announced early on that these opportunities must be more accessible and inclusive - especially for women and minority populations.  

While it is not unusual today to have Diversity, Equity and Inclusion hiring goals written into mission statements and project labor agreements, it is rare that actual employment of women and minority groups meet those targets. When analysis of who performed or is performing the work is done and the numbers fall short, reasons are given and “best faith efforts” are offered. In reality, the primary reason women and minorities are often excluded from skilled trades jobs is because they were absent from the “available pool” of workers to begin with. Through our participation in the Global Wind Organization (GWO) Basic Offshore Safety Training at Mass Maritime Academy, Pile Drivers Local 56 (the marine construction division of the North Atlantic States Carpenters ) has taken the long view on meeting both the technical skills demand and hiring challenges for offshore wind turbine installation. Skilled trades, by definition, require a considerable amount of time and financial investment in education and training - often in the form of apprenticeships.  With $100,000 in grant funding from Mass CEC and $50,000 in matching funds from North Atlantic Carpenters Training Fund (NASCTF), Local Union 56 began GWO training for 60 members in 2019.

We began training in late 2019 and invited volunteers from a “go-to” roster of seasoned marine professionals. Because I wanted our first class to be successful, I focused most of my attention on registration and the logistics of getting participants to Mass Maritime Academy for 10 training sessions. The class went pretty much according to plan, all completed the assignments, and upon conclusion we had 12 tradesmen ready for offshore work. But when I took a step back and looked at who the participants were, I realized they were all white men, aged early 30’s to early 50’s.  The takeaway here is that easier choices, ones we are most comfortable with, mean choosing from a limited talent pool.  Plainly stated, a “go-to” group often looks a lot like the person who does the choosing. With this in mind, I approached the selection of participants for the second cohort of GWO students differently. This time around, I looked much closer at who was being asked to participate. Rather than limiting the pool to “seasoned journeymen,” I included several apprentices. As a result, the demographics of this 12-person cohort was comprised of 33% women and minorities. In total, there were five apprentices, and 33% of the class participants were Southeastern Massachusetts residents.

Dave Borrus

Subsequently, every GWO Basic Offshore Safety Class that we have opened to our membership has been composed of at least 33% - 50% women and/or minority members. Overall, 12% of trainees to date have been women and 19% are minorities. Providing access and opportunity to local residents remains a priority, with 24% of our graduates living in Norfolk, Bristol, or Plymouth County. I believe reaching out to apprentices was a key factor in increasing the diversity within the pool of available participants. The membership of Local 56 is made up of 6% women and 16% minority members, for a total of 22% of our entire membership.  However, our Apprenticeship is comprised of 15% women, and 22% minority members, for a combined 36% total.

As with many trades, our Pile Driver/Diver Apprentices are more diverse than the local in its entirety. This reflects an increased awareness in recent years of the need to recruit more women and minorities, and apprenticeship is the natural gateway. Although apprentices are not as experienced as journey-level construction workers, they have made the active commitment to learn the trade, and to varying degrees have been exposed to many aspects of our work.

What really makes a difference is taking the extra step and effort to “balance” the pool of available members; this was not rocket science, and we did not need diversity consultants. The nuts and bolts of our success was really in making choices that went beyond the “go-to” and by looking to members who had not been given these opportunities before. Having the foresight to be proactive in doing so before the contractor calls for workers puts us at an advantage as well. Of equal importance is that we were able to achieve this while maintaining the highest industry standards. Overall, 72% of women who have graduated the GWO Basic Safety Training have gone on to successfully pass the AWS D1.5 Unlimited Structural Welding certification (vertical and overhead), and 73% of our minority members have done the same. All are currently employed in those capacities, helping to enhance their “seasoning” as we get closer to offshore deployments. GWO Basic Offshore Training is now included as part of the Pile Driver/Diver Apprenticeship Program. Looking towards the future, this will help us to further deepen the available pool of diverse, skilled, marine construction professionals.

Contact Information

David Borrus, Business Manager

Pile Drivers and Divers Local 56

750 Dorchester Avenue

Boston MA 02140

617-201-9953 cell

617-443-1988 office