I’m on the road this week working from the great Pacific Northwest — Seattle to be exact. We’re in the middle of the three-day Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle. On Tuesday, before the show started, Bruce Buls, WorkBoat’s technical editor and native Northwesterner, took me to visit Vigor Industrial’s Harbor Island shipyard. It’s a big, rugged piece of real estate that has a long maritime history and what appears to be a bright future. For someone like me who appreciates heavy industrial complexes, it was easy to feel comfortable there.

Part of the morning included a tour of Vigor’s industrial training center, right there in the shipyard. Partnering with South Seattle Community College, Vigor opened the training center in 2013. The welding school includes a computer lab, classroom space and an industrial training floor with weld booths and other industrial equipment.

Ken Johnson, who runs the program and is Vigor’s corporate weld instructor, said the on-site location allows students to experience how the shipyard works and to learn from boatbuilding veterans. He also said the college worked closely with industry to design a curriculum that teaches marketable welding and fitting skills for maritime and other manufacturing industries.

While right now training the facility’s third class, Johnson said his current students and those in the first two classes have been anxious to learn. “They realize this is a career opportunity,” he said. “They work hard at it.”

Johnson said it’s not just kids out of high school who apply. “We have people who are 18 and up to 57 looking to start a new career.”

The program focuses on boatbuilding, ship fitting, and fabrication training and includes a basic math component. The popularity and success of the program is leading to the addition of six new welding booths in the near future. Other areas of classroom discussion include how to get along with fellow workers.

Using an educational institute to help marry shipyards to potential workers is becoming more popular throughout the U.S. And the program at Vigor and South Seattle Community College looks like it comes from lessons well learned.  

Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.