EB, state building a ‘pipeline’

Shipbuilding, a historical occupation in Rhode Island, will need hundreds of new workers in the next decade, starting this year. For the state, finding and preparing the needed employees represents a significant challenge.

General Dynamics Electric Boat, which six months ago anticipated needing 336 people this year, now is looking at filling as many as 650 jobs.

The state, by committing $3.6 million in federal and state funds to new training programs, is pledging to produce at least 508 of those workers, and help Electric Boat train another 64, according to the R.I. Department of Labor and Training. The state provided $369,500 last year for a pilot effort.

Electric Boat needs welders, machinists, ship fitters, pipe welders, pipe fitters, sheet-metal specialists and maritime electricians.

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To prepare a supply of workers, Rhode Island has begun several new programs aimed at people still in high school, as well as older workers and veterans, said DLT Director Scott R. Jensen.

Program graduates can apply for inclusion in the new ramp-up, Jensen said.

Electric Boat then sends its new hires to trade-specific training programs that the company has helped develop with the state.

The trade-specific training at New England Institute of Technology will prepare 276 people over the next several years, using the state funding already in hand, according to the DLT. Its training programs are focused on welders, machinists and ship fitters.

Programs at a new Community College of Rhode Island facility in Westerly will prepare another 232. These programs will produce the electricians, pipe fitters and sheet-metal mechanics, according to the DLT.

Another 64 Electric Boat workers who’ve already graduated from the pilot training program will receive additional training under the new appropriation.

What’s the payoff? For the employees, it’s a highly paid skill and expectation of years of available work, according to Electric Boat President Jeffrey S. Geiger.

For Rhode Island, it’s a highly trained workforce and a continuing supply of workers to an essential manufacturer.

Electric Boat, which will make 80 percent of the Ohio class replacement submarines, expects to need 5,000 or more employees at its Quonset facility in North Kingstown within the next several years. It has 3,353 now.

Depending on the trade, the average wages range from a low of $14.14 an hour to $30 an hour, said EB spokesman Greg Rose.

“The opportunity is huge,” Jensen said. “We want to build a pipeline that works, so when they really ramp up in three or four years, to build these Ohio class [replacement] submarines, we’ve got the pump primed.”

Among the workers who participated in the training pilot last year, all but one are still working at EB.

“They’ve retained them,” Jensen said. “That’s the beautiful thing.” •