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Opening The Reef

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New training center 'The Reef' ready to train employees for the blue economy.

On September 14, POM West Flanders, along with consortium partners Syntra West, Ghent University, VIVES University College, and Howest University, inaugurated the brand-new Training Lab Blue Energy 'The Reef' in Oostende. Companies and organizations can use this training center to prepare today's and tomorrow's employees for a career in the blue economy.

Boosting Employee Skills

The offshore renewable energy sector and the blue economy are rapidly advancing in terms of technology. Companies struggle to find individuals with the right profiles and necessary competencies. In response to the needs of these companies, POM West Flanders invested in this new training center. “The offshore renewable energy sector, and by extension, the blue economy, is crucial for West Flanders as a coastal province. The influx of trained workers should enable our businesses to fully exploit the numerous opportunities,” says a proud Jean de Bethune, chairman of POM West Flanders.

New offshore turbines and infrastructure must be established to meet the increased demand. Additionally, existing installations require regular maintenance and repairs to remain operational. A newly installed capacity of 3800 MW implies the need for an additional 4,560 personnel to operate and maintain offshore wind turbines, with a forecast of 95,000 workers over the next six years needed for planning, installation, and maintenance.

Virtual Reality Training Lab

The Reef is wholeheartedly embracing virtual reality and other immersive technologies that immerse students and learners in lifelike simulations. “Training people in the offshore field is not always straightforward due to weather conditions, accessibility, and safety concerns,” explains Ruth Teerlynck, coordinator of The Reef. “Thanks to the innovative visualization techniques of this training center, we create a controlled and safe environment. Here, employees acquire the necessary skills and gain insights into potential risks in the field.”

Innovative Technologies

The Reef, with an investment of over 1.5 million euros, is equipped with advanced VR headsets with unlimited mobility. “Moreover, users can move in open space thanks to precise position tracking. The VR Cave (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) takes things a step further. This system immerses users in an immersive digital environment where they can freely move around and interact with virtual content,” adds Ruth Teerlynck. “Through an interactive screen, visitors can visualize complex systems and processes during training and work with them. The Reef also features a control room where we monitor and analyze data from offshore wind farms.”

Consortium Partners’ Offerings

The operation of the training lab is managed by a consortium of four educational providers: Ghent University, VIVES University College, Howest, and Syntra West. This unique collaboration ensures optimal use of the training lab across a wide range of educational levels. Companies and other knowledge institutions can also rent the lab to provide training to their employees or clients. Syntra West uses the lab for wind turbine technician training and a new program for marine coordinators, covering aspects like the monitoring and logistical flow of offshore wind turbine parks.

Innovative Training Infrastructure in West Flanders

POM West Flanders and VDAB are jointly investing 8 million euros in high-tech training equipment at various locations in the province of West Flanders through the European UPSKILL project. “In an era of rapid digitalization and automation, jobs are evolving at a lightning pace. With these investments, we support our West Flemish companies with training materials and resources to teach their employees new skills and enhance their digital capabilities,” concludes Jean de Bethune.