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Front Line: Green Energy Companies Building a Qualified Workforce

Labor unions and the offshore wind energy industry are working together to advance the transition to clean energy.

Q3 2023
Historically, the working relationships between labor unions and employers have often been contentious and difficult. But some new partnerships between “green” energy companies and U.S. labor unions seem to be taking a more compatible approach.

New Apprenticeship Programs
In Milwaukee, Ingeteam, a Spanish-based manufacturer, which has been making wind turbine generators in the U.S. since 2010, announced a partnership with IBEW Local 2150, which represents 5,100 members in building transmission, utilities, and manufacturing.

Ingeteam’s Milwaukee plant is the only one in the U.S. that builds and repairs wind turbine generators, according to the company. Last October, Ingeteam asked the Local’s help in recruiting and training more workers, due to increased investment and deployment of turbines and greatly increased demand for repair services. The union worked with Ingeteam to start new apprenticeship programs focused on repair and assembly work.

Mike Bruening, the Local’s assistant business manager, says the plan is to create two, two-year apprenticeship programs, one for generator assembly technicians and one for repair technicians. He noted that “mutual interest” motivated the union and Ingeteam to work together on this effort. “It’s coming together quite well, and the plan is expanding” he told Area Development. They hope to train the first group of 15 applicants by the end of this year, and the state of Wisconsin is working on providing tuition grants to each trainee.

Standardized training will be provided by Milwaukee Area Technical College. With increased federal funding for green energy projects, Bruening says he hopes the program will eventually serve several dozen trainees. “We’ve been working on this for a couple years, and federal tax credits for turbine generators are creating more orders.”

“A new generation” of HR professionals is taking a different approach in dealing with labor unions. In an interview with the U.S. Labor Department, Garan Chivinski, Ingeteam’s human resources manager, said “a new generation” of HR professionals is taking a different approach in dealing with labor unions. He said the company wants to serve as a model for other employers who want to be involved in the clean energy transition “in a way that puts workers first…To anyone who is engaging with unions, especially for the first time, my biggest advice is to approach your conversations with an open heart and an open mind,” Chivinski said. “You might find a good partner who shares many of your goals.”

A Model for Labor-Management Cooperation
In 2022, Danish-based offshore wind developer Ørsted signed a historic Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), the labor organization representing more than three million skilled craft professionals. The partnership is designed to transition U.S. union construction workers into the offshore wind industry in collaboration with the leadership of the U.S. NABTU affiliates and the AFL-CIO.

“The signing of this unprecedented agreement is historic for America’s workers and our energy future,” said Sean McGarvey, president of NABTU.

Ørsted said it has already committed $23 million for improved and new programming to train American workers for jobs in offshore wind. Ørsted operates America’s first offshore wind farm, Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island, and has the largest U.S. offshore wind energy portfolio. With its joint venture arrangements, Ørsted has six offshore wind projects in development on the Atlantic Coast, which will generate about 5GW, enough to power more than two million homes.

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