Electric Boat’s plan to hire 650 employees this year at its expanding facility at Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown is a precursor to a massive ramp-up expected to more than double the current Quonset workforce of 2,800 over the next 15-20 years.
Meeting the short- and long-term hiring goals is going to be a “challenge,” admitted Craig Sipe, Electric Boat’s senior human resources manager at Quonset, where he has worked for 14 of his 34 years with the shipbuilder.
The educational pipeline for welders, shipfitters, electricians and pipefitters has shrunk with the increasing focus on technology in the decades since Electric Boat’s hiring wave in the 1970s and 1980s – the last wave that was as large as the company’s current employment surge.
“When we hired at this magnitude before, there was much more of a vocational structure in the country, more literacy in the trades, things like shop math,” said Sipe. “Now there are not that many people skilled in the trades out there. We’ve hired as many as we can find, so we expect most of the applicants to be entry level.”
A high school diploma, including a GED, is preferred, but not required, for the vast majority of those jobs, said Sipe. But even for entry-level jobs, some candidates are just not workforce ready, he said.
“There’s a skills gap when these students come out of high school, but it starts way before that. Some of the kids we’ll be hiring are in third grade now,” said Sipe.
“For some, it’s math skills or English as a second language,” said Sipe. “Most of these jobs require reading blueprints and understanding fractions and decimals. There are notes they have to read, in English.”
Electric Boat offers blueprint-reading classes on a voluntary basis and community colleges have programs to strengthen reading and math skills. But there are other basic workforce-development issues that make filling those jobs a challenge.