Worker pipeline needed

In the last issue, correspondent Mike Crowley wrote about the methods some shipyards are using to find and train quality welders.

For years, the conundrum for yards has been how to find or create a good and reliable pipeline for welding candidates. Some say the problem is partially a result of cutbacks in vocational training at high schools and community colleges. Now, with the average age of shipyard workers at 55, according to one study, it is more crucial than ever to create a so-called “youth pipeline.”

Several yards, including Washburn & Doughty, Blount Boats and Vigor Industrial, have been proactive on the welding front. Vigor, for example, has partnered up with community colleges to offer highly intensive hands-on training that focuses on the specific skills that shipyards require.

Recently I stumbled across an Alaska Public Media report that highlighted what Vigor is doing at its Ketchikan, Alaska, shipyard to find welders. The story was about Vigor’s new job training course for high school students that it launched in the spring and how three of the students have stuck with the program. It told the story of one of the students, Kaila Del Rosario, 17, an observer in the new job-training program. In about a year, she’ll probably be a Vigor employee. “That’s the plan so far and I’m just going along with it, and I find it really, really cool and exciting,” Del Rosario told APM. 

I read about another really cool and exciting program in The Wall Street Journal in August. The report told about a program at Southwire Co., a cable manufacturer located about an hour west of Atlanta. Teenagers there work on the company’s factory line for four hours a day at above minimum wage rates and then spend eight hours daily in the company’s classrooms. The program was designed by Southwire to develop a skilled workforce while at the same time helping troubled high-school students from the area get their lives in order. As the WSJ report said, Southwire’s program is one of several attempts by U.S. companies to produce what businesses need and what schools are having a tough time doing: producing high-school graduates with adequate workplace skills.

Success stories like these should give shipyards hope for the future.

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