Quiz time: getting a taste of how challenging it could be to spot marine mammals in open water
New grads - a couple of our first program attendees with their trainers
Working with SouthCoast Wind to widen employment routes for local communities in US offshore wind
A new training program developed and delivered by RPS is increasing access to Protected Species Observer (PSO) employment opportunities for local communities. As well as growing a skilled workforce, this also helps to satisfy offshore development projects’ increasing need for local content.
SouthCoast Wind and RPS are working together to provide local tribal communities with free training, including the certifications required to work as a Protected Species Observer (PSO). The first year of the program began this June in Fall River, Massachusetts with students from two local tribes – the Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts & Rhode Island and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.
Read on to find out more about why this initiative is so important to the industry – and how we get some of U.S. offshore wind’s best-trained PSOs ready to work on our clients’ projects.
What is a PSO?
Protected Species Observers are deployed to support industry and academic marine activities where there is the potential for those activities to disturb marine protected species. Their mandate is to conduct monitoring, usually from an offshore location; document encounters with protected species; and, where applicable, be familiar with requirements for mitigation to the activities being undertaken, so as to minimize any potential impacts on species encountered. To find out more, visit our PSO page here.
Local employment and support for local content
RPS is committed to engaging with local tribal communities and underrepresented populations to ensure pathways to offshore wind careers are made available and accessible. This initiative expands beyond the existing recruiting and training that exists for this career pathway: it focuses on training under-represented groups, including tribal members, to enter the field, at no cost to individuals (an important point since the comprehensive range of training required to become a PSO could otherwise be a blocker to wider entry in general).
This work also delivers local content – often a vital requirement of offshore wind projects, and which is part of U.S. federal regulations. A local content workforce can support this during all operations. Therefore, the ability to provide working positions for specific groups is of added value to the future of offshore wind in the United States.
Designing a fit-for-purpose training program
The offshore environment is a unique place to work. The commutes look different, and your office comes with an amazing view. However, the unpredictable natural environment, weather conditions, long hours and potential sea sickness can be new to trainee PSOs, so the RPS team have looked carefully at what will be needed to prepare them for life offshore and assist in the transition to their new roles.
Related read: What is it like to work as a PSO? Read deployment and marine mammal stories from some of our team here.
The individuals receive in-depth training provided by the RPS PSO office staff – all experienced former PSOs or marine project managers. The first day is spent getting familiar with their new role. They complete the in-house United States Training for Mitigation Under BOEM, and NMFS standards in the Biological Opinion on the Federally Regulated Oil and Gas Survey Activities in the Gulf of Mexico. (This training is required of any PSO who wants to work in the offshore U.S. environment). They are also provided with an introduction to offshore wind projects in the U.S. and Health, Safety, Environment (HSE) overview.
RPS has created three unique workshops around Introduction to Communication, Conflict Prevention and Resolution, and Introduction to Data Collecting and Reporting. These are interactive workshops that focus on real-world scenarios and use archived project data – two crucial elements that give new PSOs a real taste of what they need to know to be effective in the field.
The added session that’s everyone’s favourite is the hands-on ‘Introduction to Wildlife Photography’. This is taught by one of RPS’ experienced Offshore PSOs. They provide tips and tricks on camera settings, lighting and focus points, all culminating in an afternoon outside trying out new skills. Although the chance to see and photograph species in the wild is one of the highlights of the job, it’s also a key piece of evidence-gathering, so this workshop is not only fun but valuable too.
Once the in-person training in New England is complete, the trainees travel to Houston, Texas to complete Offshore Safety Training and Offshore medicals – definitely partaking in some good Texas BBQ along the way! After that, they’re all set, and will wait (with excitement!) for their first deployment.
We completed the first training cohort in June 2022 in Fall River, Massachusetts. Our two trainees, Joshua Tripp and Mariah Hendricks, successfully completed the training program. It was a great time working through the training materials with them and preparing them for their time offshore as PSOs. We were so excited to see them complete their first rotations offshore this fall supporting SouthCoast’s survey projects. Their first sightings were of pods of common dolphins, and they were able to put their new skills into practice. We cannot wait to see how they continue to adjust and settle into their offshore roles.