Originally published by “Wisconsin Inno” of the Business Journals.
WRTP | BIG STEP, a nonprofit workforce intermediary, is working with Madison startup Realta Fusion in a partnership that will work to identify the competencies and skills needed to create and sustain Wisconsin’s fusion workforce as the industry develops.
“There’s no point waiting until the 2030s to start going out and trying to hire these people,” said Realta Fusion CEO and co-founder Kieran Furlong. “We need to start training now.”
Realta Fusion was incorporated in 2022 with a goal to create clean, renewable fusion energy for industrial operations. It’s a big goal, and the startup hopes to commercialize its technology in the 2030s.
Realta Fusion received $9 million in venture capital funding from Silicon Valley venture investor Khosla Ventures and $3 million from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), according to previous Milwaukee Business Journal reporting. Furlong noted that the DOE grant will fund portions of all Realta Fusion efforts, which includes its partnership with WRTP | BIG STEP.
WRTP | BIG STEP (Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership/Building Industry Group Skilled Trades Employment Program) is active in matching employees to employers in regional industrial and manufacturing. The nonprofit is especially focused on opening up opportunities for training and employment for historically underrepresented populations.
As a swiftly emerging technology, fusion and the industry skills, jobs and sectors needed to sustain it are far from firmly established. With cutting-edge technology like fusion, the aim of startups like Realta Fusion and nonprofits such as WRTP | BIG STEP is to identify the types of educational tracks needed to train, employ and retain talent.
The newly announced partnership will start by identifying the relevant community actors and existing partners. Partners may include unions, manufacturing employers, educational institutions and beyond. After identifying the relevant players in the coming months, the partnership will work to gather them together and determine which training paths require fusion-centered customization and which paths need to be created anew.
President and CEO of WRTP | BIG STEP Lindsay Blumer explained that 2024 and 2025 will be dedicated to outreach. The nonprofit will connect with youth and adults from diverse backgrounds through existing partnerships with school districts, Wisconsin’s technical college system and other partners in order to develop future talent.
Competencies in the industry range from welders and blueprint readers to mathematicians, laboratory technicians and engineers.
“We know it’s going to take all those types of positions,” said Blumer. “There isn’t one position that’s better or worse or less or more than the other because each one is going to be an integral piece of the puzzle.”
If the partnership can prove its success in building a pipeline to support the emerging industry, Blumer is confident that future public and private funding will sustain the partnership as it expands.
Down the line, Realta Fusion seeks to seize on the skilled labor generated by this partnership, said Furlong.
Realta Fusion originated as a research project out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was funded by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-e). Among the five-person founding team are Furlong and Cary Forest, the startup’s scientific officer. As of Monday, Realta Fusion brought another employee onto the team and is the process of signing two more. By the end of the year, Realta Fusion hopes to expand its team to 15, doubling it by 2024.
The device at the center of Realta Fusion’s efforts is designed to hold a high temperature gas, like the plasma within the sun. According to a YouTube video hosted on ARPA-e’s channel, the device is meant to heat the gas to extreme temperatures, generate fusion reactions and harness the energy produced for renewable, industrial applications.
Ultimately, Wisconsin is poised to be the future of the fusion industry.
“We see massive potential for Wisconsin to take a lead in the nascent fusion industry. It’s going to be huge this century and we have an opportunity to be at the heart of it,” said Furlong in a press release. “Wisconsin has both cutting-edge fusion research and a long history of innovative manufacturing. If we successfully combine those with a skilled workforce, the global hub for fusion can be right here.”