Electric Boat To Take Advantage Of $5 Million Grant For On-The-Job Training
By Julia Bergman
December 12, 2016
Groton — Electric Boat intends to take advantage of a $5 million federal grant, secured by the Connecticut Department of Labor, to help pay for on-the-job training for some of its employees.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the state's Commissioner of Labor Scott Jackson, joined by other government officials as well as EB management and union heads, announced the grant at a news conference Monday morning at the local Boilermakers union hall on Sacred Heart Drive.
"If we're going to be building two or two-and-half submarines a year here and repairing other submarines, or doing the same in aerospace, we need the properly trained workforce, otherwise that work goes elsewhere," Malloy said in answering questions from reporters after the news conference.
EB anticipates hiring 14,000 people over the next 13 years to fill a combination of new jobs and those vacated by people retiring and leaving for other reasons. The influx of new hires, primarily shipyard personnel, prompted the company, its two biggest unions and the state to renew the apprentice programs at EB for designers and tradespeople.
The $5 million, part of a larger $175 million American Apprenticeship grant awarded to 46 public-private partnerships "marrying the efforts of employers, organized labor, nonprofits, local governments, and educational institutions to expand high-quality apprenticeships," provides up to $3,500 for each apprentice to cover tuition and other training costs.
The grant will help train 1,000 apprentices, about half of whom will be Electric Boat employees, over the next five years, according to Nancy Steffens, spokeswoman for the state's labor department.
"However, if the company is looking at a larger number beyond 500, we will work with them to meet their needs," Steffens said by email.
"We need a lot more of these," Fred Carstensen, an economist at the University of Connecticut, said, referring to apprentice programs. "In Connecticut, the current payroll employment is slightly below the level of 1989. We've really flat lined as a state... This is not going to bend the curve, but it's still need good news."
There are currently about 6,000 apprentices and more than 1,600 employer sponsors in Connecticut, according to numbers put out by Malloy's office.
An aging manufacturing workforce has created a dearth of skilled workers and prompted a buildup of training programs, which went away as the industry began to decline. At EB, between 250 and 300 employees retire each year, and that number is expected to grow.
Manufacturing in Connecticut dropped steadily from a workforce high of about 220,000 in 2002 until about 2014. Since then, the manufacturing workforce in the state has hovered around 160,000. The Norwich-New London area, which includes Westerly, employs 16,000 manufacturing workers, who make up about 13 percent of the employed workforce in the area, according to the latest issue of the Connecticut Economic Digest.
Officials often point to manufacturing as a pathway to the middle class, saying the jobs pay well and offer good benefits.
The average starting salary for a worker in the trades at EB is about $38,000 a year; for more senior workers, the average salary is in the $56,000-plus range.
EB formally established its apprentice program in 1948. Since then, the company has stopped and restarted the program based on its workload and the stage of work it was in.
Last week, 30 members of the Metal Trades Council, which bargains for most shipyard workers, began the restarted apprenticeship program, which combines classroom instruction with on-the-job training. The apprentices — a mix of inside machinists, outside machinists, welders, ship fitters, and sheet metal workers — will spend three years training through the program, except for the inside machinists who will train for four years.
The last MTC apprentice class started their training in 2005, graduating in 2008, so the restart is "long overdue," said longtime MTC President Ken Delacruz, who graduated from the welding apprenticeship in 1976.
"We're going to pass on the skills and the knowledge that generations of our shipbuilders have done over the years," Delacruz said.
Managers select apprentices based on a number of different criteria such as their performance on a test that mainly evaluates their math skills, a written essay detailing why they want to take part in the program and recommendations.
In mid-January, 30 members of Marine Draftsmen's Association-United Autoworkers Local 571 will start a three-year design apprenticeship.
MDA President Bill Louis, a 1993 graduate of the shipfitters apprenticeship, pointed to 21-year-old Nicholas Delorme, picked to be among the new class of 30 design apprentices.
"(He's) been here for six months. I'm going to look forward to seeing him in 20 more years to talk about this experience," Louis said.
Another future apprentice, but in the trades program, Anne Messerschmidt, 24, who has worked at EB for about a year-and-a-half, said she's been "very, very patient about waiting for the apprenticeship to start."
Messerschmidt said she is one of three females in the apprentice program and is "very happy to represent female side of the workforce."