Offshore Wind and the Workforce Consideration
Closer Look at What Offshore Wind Means to New Jersey’s Manufacturing Industry
Every decision comes with pros and cons. No piece of legislation, state or nationwide initiative, or massive infrastructure project comes without both sides of the coin. It’s foolish to think there will ever be a massive undertaking that comes without its fair share of positives and negatives. The same is true for the Ocean Wind projects taking place off the Atlantic Shores in southern New Jersey. Offshore Wind power is promising to stimulate the local economy. And to create thousands of jobs in production, logistics, administration, and a plethora of other industries in its wake. However, the fear of where these jobs will come from in an already tight labor market has people worried about what it will do to the over 11,000 New Jersey manufacturing and logistics businesses that are already struggling to find people.
It is estimated that the Offshore Wind project will need hundreds of welders. Welders are incredibly difficult to come by today. The question is, “Where will these welders come from?”? The state is working to put together apprenticeship programs, invest in manufacturing, support New Jersey’s Manufacturing Extension program and community colleges that have advanced manufacturing curricula, but there isn’t enough time to bring hundreds of welders up to speed. Orsted, the Danish wind energy company that is leading this initiative, expects to start installing the monopiles in 2024. This leaves many manufacturing business leaders in the area concerned that their welders will be in the sights of this massive wind energy behemoth.
According to New Jersey’s Offshore Wind Workforce Assessment report, this project will call for:
- 473 Structural Metal Fabricators and Fitters
- 457 Assemblers and Fabricators
- 435 Electricians
- 345 Maintenance and Repair people
- 247 Industrial Machinery Mechanics
- 238 Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers
- 203 Metal-Refining Furnace Operators and Tenders
In addition, there are hundreds of supporting roles required to support this incredible infrastructure project. These jobs are high-paying, come with exceptional benefits, and the skills are transferable to dozens of other industries. As the state doubles down in its commitment to up-skill New Jersey residents to take on these increasingly in-demand positions, the workforce will continue to grow. The concern is the attrition expected for newcomers into the industry, and the time it takes to safely train people with limited or no experience to take on these roles. New Jersey estimates that this project will continue through 2035. The Census estimates that by 2030 all Baby Boomers will be age 65 or older. There will be no workforce base to take over these positions meaning that New Jersey will need to create 2,398 industrial professionals in just 7 years.
Opportunity Hidden by Outdated Public Perception
Manufacturing has struggled with a public perception problem since the 4-year higher education track took hold. This image issue is making it extraordinarily difficult to secure those 2,398 new potential manufacturers. The state and training entities are just now starting to encourage middleschool and high-school students to explore a career in the industrial space. Parents are still fighting against the idea of alternative career paths. Most parents insist on their children attending 4-year schools, even with all the new information and messaging about the ROI of attending college. The Education Data Initiative shared that 32.9% of undergraduates do not complete their degree program. Unfortunately, this attrition rate mixed with manufacturing’s public perception means many of these individuals will work in low-income, non-benefit-providing service jobs because they don’t have the skills to enter manufacturing or simply do not know these jobs and opportunities exist. This means there are two options to develop the workforce that the Ocean Wind projects will require. One option is what is currently being done to rebuild the workforce. This option will take quite a bit of time and there is no guarantee there will be enough people to fill these positions. The second option, and one that is making manufacturers all over the state and even those in Pennsylvania worry, is that they will be taken from other places of employment.
What Industry Needs to Succeed
The issue with jobs being taken is that it is extremely likely that these jobs are going to be temporary. Once the wind turbines are manufactured and installed, the program will only require periodic maintenance. Orsted, a Danish company, will not be setting roots down in New Jersey. The future of this monumental workforce is far from clear. The jobs will be high-paying and sustainable while they are here, but once they move on there is no certainty workers. The jobs they leave behind to work on the Offshore Wind program may no longer be there. Manufacturing in New Jersey is extraordinarily competitive, and with an already scarce workforce, a mass exodus of workers might be what causes current ‘MADE in NJ’ manufacturers to close their doors or move out of state.
The positive economic benefit, at least in the short term, is impossible to ignore. Additionally, clean energy will help maintain a healthier and more sustainable environment for the state, nation, and world. Still, there’s a concern about the long-term economic impact or how poaching workers will negatively affect current New Jersey manufacturers. There needs to be careful consideration in protecting current manufacturing jobs and there needs to be a massive, concentrated effort to give community colleges, manufacturing programs, and state-based training and workforce programs the resources they need to up-skill as many new workers as possible to help avoid this potential reality. If no sustainable action is taken, the economic boost that comes with this monumental and groundbreaking project will only be a temporary win for New Jersey and its residents.