An Interview with Kristin Urbach & Dr. James Halley

Kristin Urbach, Executive Director of the Chamber | Dr. James M. Halley, Educational Consultant

“Four years ago, the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce was awarded a Real Jobs RI grant from the Department of Labor and Training,” said Kristin Urbach, Executive Director of the Chamber.  “The RealJobsRI program is one of the Governor’s initiatives. The NK Chamber’s grant, entitled WindWinRI, mission is to o design and build a talent pipeline for the offshore wind energy industry.  During the first year we held many stakeholder meetings and events, while conducting analysis on the skill sets that will be needed to fill these jobs and what these jobs will look like.  What we learned immediately was that it was an aging-out workforce, so we decided to work with a curriculum designer and with Dr. James M. Halley on building an offshore wind energy high school certification in North Kingstown.  Dr. Halley is an educational consultant and former North Kingstown school superintendent.” 

The WindWinRI program’s multiprong approach addresses Adult, Youth, and the Supply Chain in the offshore wind energy industry.

For the Youth programming, theWindWinRI program designed the nation’s first Offshore Wind Energy High School certification that was approved by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE).  “RIDE has diversified its career education to include the comprehensive high schools, as well as the regional vocational education centers.  With that, we are able to add a certification in the wind industry to the high school diploma.  That’s why we’ve been able to move into some of these high schools.  We’re able to create and add on to courses that already exist in those schools, said Dr, Jim Halley

“It is the first and only offshore wind energy high school certification program in the country and was named by Fast Company magazine as a ‘World Changing Idea’ in 2019.  The youth component consists of fulfilling certification criteria that includes classroom work, field trips, and internships.

“Under WindWinRI on the classroom side, we’ve set up an offshore wind energy career pathway to introduce wind energy to high school students.  This includes the study of energy sources, marine transportation, engineering, government regulations, environmental impact and community programs,” noted Dr. Halley.  “We have added into the curriculum elements of the sciences (environmental, physical, earth, living environments); social studies; mathematics; technology/engineering; language arts; and economics; as they relate to the offshore wind industry.

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“WindWinRI includes field trips as well as classroom work,” continued Ms. Urbach.  “One field trip is to the University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Center (CRC) to learn about the Ocean SAMP process, which was so vital in the development of the Block Island offshore wind farm.  Jennifer McCann, director of the CRC, provides an overview of the SAMP in the first hour of the field trip.  In the second hour, the kids break up into groups, just like the actual stakeholder groups did back when they were developing the Ocean SAMP.  In that way, the students really get hands-on experience on the process.  They also have a trip to the offshore wind farm.  They go out on Rhode Island Fast Ferry Inc. to the wind farm to see it every year.  Rhode Island Fast Ferry has a unit, Atlantic Wind Transfers, which operates the Crew Transfer Vessels for the Block Island Wind Farm.” 

“The first students at North Kingstown High School taking the offshore wind certificate will graduate in 2021,” commented Ms. Urbach.  “We’re now at Shea High School in Pawtucket and we’re rolling it out to three more high schools in the state.”

“Another component of the certification is internships,” she continued.  “We’ve partnered with Skills for Rhode Island’s Future and have identified a number of businesses that will host an intern.  We have six interns from North Kingstown and Shea that are scheduled to perform their internships this summer, pending developments with the pandemic.  The internships will be with GEV Wind, Orsted, the Lightship Group and Atlantic Wind Transfer.” 

“With the youth component of WindWinRI, we’ve been able to identify the kind of skills that are necessary for people to get jobs in the offshore wind industry,” said Dr. Halley.  We then developed experiences for students and incumbent workers that allow them to get their offshore wind certification.  We’ve been hearing from employers that they are more likely to hire candidates that have gained the certificate.” 

KidWind: Recharge Teaching Academy

“The other component related to the youth is a summer program the Chamber has cohosted with KidWind their Recharge Teaching Academy with a focus on offshore wind energy,” said Ms. Urbach.  “This is a four-day teacher training program that focuses on wind power.  Although it’s been running for 10 years, last year was the first time that it was specifically on offshore wind, covering the politics, technologies and economics of wind energy coupled with a range of engaging activities that teachers can use with their students.  They also get a trip out to the wind farm.  It is held at the CRC with the teachers staying on the URI campus.  We’re planning to repeat the Academy this summer and have our fingers crossed that the pandemic will have eased and we’ll be able to run it."

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Another exciting thing that we had scheduled, but with the pandemic we had to cancel, was the state’s first high school wind turbine competition at the Community College or Rhode Island.  The students have been preparing at many of the schools.  We have a video of them at one of the schools – Exeter-West Greenwich High School.  It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t have that event but the participating students aren’t seniors so they’ll be able to do that again next year and can go on to compete in the nationals.  There are 22 of these competitions in the United States and Rhode Island and Maine are the only ones on the East Coast. 

“WindWinRI is a program with a multi-prong approach,” she continued.  For the adult programming, we are trainingpeople in sea survival and working at heights.  Last August, during American Wind Week, we hosted a rope access demonstration with Level III technicians from GEV Wind who came in from the United Kingdom and rappelled off the Mount Hope Bridge to show people what it’s like.  We also trained dozens of incumbent workers both in the trades and for-profit businesses at working at heights and sea survival last summer.  We offer Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians (SPRAT) Level 1 Certification in conjunction with KONG USA, a Bristol, RI-based company.” 

“This year we’re adding a new incumbent training class on marine transport vessels in partnership with Atlantic Wind Transfer.  The company is increasing its fleet and plans to operate out of Quonset to support the infrastructure for all of the wind farms that will be developed.  The company has hired a number of people that we’ve trained.” 

“The third and final component, after youth and adult, is the supply chain.  We currently have 600 businesses in our database related to offshore wind and we’re working on expand it further and adding it to our website.  We’ve partnered with the American Wind Energy Association and the Business Network for Offshore Wind and we’re hoping to do events with once the pandemic has settled.  We’re having discussions with them to have supply chain and matchmaking events in the future,” Ms. Urbach concluded. 

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