UMass Amherst Meets Offshore Wind Industry Workforce Diversity Challenge with Access Grant Scholarship

Guest blog by Max Dilthey and River Strong, UMass Clean Energy Extension

The U.S. offshore wind (OSW) industry is beginning a rapid rise to meet the next generation’s need for clean, secure, and affordable energy. As the domestic supply chain gains its footing, the urgent demand for a skilled workforce has driven several New England states to examine the industry’s potential for an equitable, just, and accessible employment market. To help meet these needs, the University of Massachusetts Amherst Clean Energy Extension (UMass CEE) is making diversity, equity, and inclusion a primary focus of their contribution to workforce development.

In July 2021, the Baker-Polito Administration announced $1.6 million in grant funding to increase the participation of underrepresented groups in the offshore wind industry. This funding – shared by eight organizations across the public-private spectrum – is helping UMass CEE to offer the UMass Offshore Wind Career Access Scholarship program, which offers students from Massachusetts Gateway Cities and Environmental Justice communities resources to overcome financial and logistical barriers to participation in the OSW workforce. 

UMass CEE’s Offshore Wind Professional Certificate is an online 3-course graduate-level certificate developed with funding and technical support from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and several OSW industry partnerships. The Certificate is tailored to meet the needs of (1) professionals looking to re-specialize or transition from adjacent industries, and (2) current students looking to begin new careers in offshore wind. The Certificate provides fluency across OSW industry disciplines and sectors, and gives graduates a strong foundation to meet a rapidly changing technical and multi-disciplinary environment.

The three courses in the certificate program each cover a different aspect of the emergent offshore wind industry, including:

  • Technology, engineering, grid Integration, and industry trends

  • Environmental impact, project siting, permitting, and stakeholder engagement

  • Project finance, supply chain management, marketing, business logistics, law, and policy

Certificate graduates are prepared to lead in their respective niche, with confident and comprehensive knowledge of the industry’s current trends, technical details, and future outlook. Accessible course materials, hands-on experiential learning, and guided mentorship in a collaborative environment make the program attractive for learners from all backgrounds and experience levels. 

The Certificate curriculum is drawn directly from the U.S. industry. Past and planned guest instructors and speakers include:

  • Jeff Enright, Maritime Archaeology Division Leader, SEARCH - SEARCH2

  • Bob Grace, President and Managing Director, Sustainable Energy Advantage, LLC

  • Christopher Hardy, External Outreach Manager, Mayflower Wind

  • Lawrence Mott, HVDC/Transmission Lead, Mayflower Wind

  • Matt Palmer, President and CEO WT USA

  • Kelsey Perry, Community Liaison Officer, of Mayflower Wind 

  • Ramon Rosquete, Director of Operations, CREADIS

  • Jordan Shoesmith, Senior Manager, Bid Development at Vineyard Wind

  • Joel Southall, Fisheries Liaison Officer, Mayflower Wind

  • Kevin Stokesbury, Professor of Fisheries Oceanography, UMass Dartmouth School for Marine Science & Technology (SMAST)

  • Rahul Yarala, Executive Director, Wind Technology Testing Center

In addition to exposure to industry organizations and practitioners, the Certificate students themselves represent a key part of the curriculum’s strength, as individuals from various disciplines and backgrounds come together for group projects and networking activities. Many students are already working professionally in OSW or other renewable energy sectors, and can contribute their working knowledge to the course material. This active, participatory aspect of the online courses has also helped students network their way into employment in the industry. 

Launched in 2020, the Offshore Wind Professional Certificate has already demonstrated appeal for professionals from broad backgrounds, including women and members of other underrepresented groups in the industry workforce:

“The curated readings, guest lecturers, and working with my fellow classmates -- many of whom are also professionals from a wide range of fields -- has all been extremely valuable,” says Diane Hoskins, a student and Climate and Energy Campaign Director for the ocean conservation organization Oceana. “If you're interested in getting up to speed quickly, you can achieve that through this program.”

The first cohort -- graduated in June 2021 -- has joined the industry across sectors, in positions with Vineyard Wind, Equinor, Mayflower, Wood Thilsted, Ventower, the Massachusetts Dept. of Public Utilities, and others. In some cases, Certificate students have found employment in the industry even before they finish the program.

These strengths, coupled with the upcoming scholarship program for students from diverse backgrounds, will help UMass CEE expand its student cohort to include members from all communities across Massachusetts. A diverse and inclusive workforce will offer Massachusetts the advantage of a more competitive, adaptable, and innovative foundation for a thriving future in this emergent industry.