WindWinRI student training program receives $175K DLT grant

Updated at 6:51 p.m.

THE NORTH KINGSTOWN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE recently received a $175,000 grant from the R.I. Department of Labor and Training to expand its WindWinRI Offshore Wind Energy Career Training Pathway System. Pictured is the Block Island Wind Farm./ COURTESY ORSTED U.S. OFFSHORE WIND

NORTH KINGSTOWN – As plans for a slew of offshore wind arrays take shape across the region, the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce is powering up its own training program for Rhode Island students and businesses with new state grant funding.

The recently awarded $175,000 grant from the R.I. Department of Labor and Training will help the Chamber to continue and expand its WindWinRI Offshore Wind Energy Career Training Pathway System. Plans for the upcoming year include adding three or four more high schools to the student certification program while bolstering efforts to engage with local businesses who might not be aware of the opportunities the industry presents for their companies, said Kristin Urbach, Chamber executive director.

The first-in-the-nation program launched in 2018 with an initial $100,000 grant from the DLT through its Real Jobs Rhode Island workforce training initiative. Since then, the four-year high school certification program has graduated a dozen high school students across four participating high schools, readying them for additional training or to directly enter careers in wind-power-related industries, Urbach said. At the same time, paid program coordinators have worked to enhance the curriculum for students while training teachers to better incorporate the skills needed for a future workforce into their own lessons. 

The DLT funding will pay for these efforts to continue with the goal of graduating 35 more students from the certification program by spring 2023. The Chamber is also preparing to host a second wind-turbine-building competition for student participants, alongside other experiential learning components in partnership with the University of Rhode Island Coastal Resource Center.

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The timing is right for us to continue to expand,” Urbach said, adding that the massive wind farms long envisioned are closer to becoming reality, bringing with them thousands of construction, operation and maintenance jobs.

Construction has already begun on the 62-turbine Vineyard Wind 1 project off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, with the South Fork and Revolution Wind arrays slated for federal waters off the coast of Block Island not far behind, although final federal approval for Revolution Wind is still pending. 

“Rhode Island has been a national leader in offshore wind,” DLT Director Matthew Weldon said in a statement. “Investing in our future workforce is key to solidifying the state’s commitment to renewable energy and ensuring a more sustainable future.”

The Chamber is also planning to hold an informational event for local businesses in the coming year – a specific date for which has not been determined – to educate companies about supply chain opportunities for the numerous projects slated to start construction in the coming years, Urbach said.

While there are several wind-energy-related companies already in the state aware of these projects, many more businesses that could play a role have little idea, Urbach said.

It’s critical to increase awareness so that businesses that have the ability to participate, can,” she said.

The WindWinRI program has received grant funding through DLT for four of the last five years, according to Urbach. The total amount was not available.

Participating high schools are North Kingstown, Charles E. Shea in Pawtucket, Exeter-West Greenwich Regional and Block Island School.

(This story has been updated to correct the number of years the WindWinRI program received funding from the R.I. Department of Labor and Training.)

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.

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