Marine Group Boat Works (MGBW), Chula Vista, Calif., announced last week that 30 welders had recently graduated from its in-house welding certification program.

The welding program was launched in 2021 with support from an $859,250 Small Shipyards Grant awarded by the Maritime Administration (Marad). The grant was used to develop the curriculum, secure an instructor, equip the welding classroom and sustain the vital program, with a cost share of 67% covered by the grant with the remaining expenses covered by MGBW.

“On-the-job training can be more beneficial than traditional schooling. I’m seeing firsthand how this program has sharpened our welders’ skillsets while instilling greater confidence in their boatbuilding and repair capabilities,” said welding department supervisor Kenny Swanson

In San Diego, there is a demand for trade schools with just a handful of programs that offer welding specific programs. San Diego community colleges and trade schools have created a pathway for a younger generation to familiarize themselves with blue collar work. As the older generation starts to retire, these programs — including MGBW’s —provide the opportunity for a new work force to come in and learn a high paying skilled trade at a young age, MGBW said. On average, the starting salary for welders in San Diego is $44,000, which according to the Center for Excellence for Labor Market Research, is just above the $38,000 living wage for San Diego.

“The college path to becoming a lawyer or a doctor is not for everyone. You can make a living wage and excellent medical benefits with the maritime industry straight out of high school,” said Swanson. “You just need to be willing to show up on time, work hard and have a positive attitude.”

The welding program offers several certifications, all in accordance with American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) and Naval Sea Systems (NAVSEA) welding certification standards for TIG and MIG welding of 5XXX, 6XXX groups of aluminum, and steel FCAW.

The employees enrolled in the welding program were able to certify or re-certify for welder certifications. In addition, 22 employees that held entry level positions including welder helpers and fire-watchers have now been promoted to certified welders.

“There has been a shortage of qualified, skilled welders in the maritime industry for years now. The only solution was taking matters into our own hands, and thankfully, we have a Maritime Administration that supports small businesses that provides subsidies for apprenticeship training programs like this,” said Todd Roberts, president of MGBW. “This welding training program has allowed us to empower from within and equip our existing team with skills and certifications that they can take anywhere.”

With the same grant, MGBW was also able to purchase new electric air compressors which allows the production employees to operate a variety of equipment such as handheld tools as grinders, sanders, wrenches, needle scalers and shears. The air compressors provide an increased volume of compressed air using less electricity and eliminate the need to rent additional diesel-powered compressors, thereby allowing the yard to get closer to achieving its zero-emissions goals.