Electric Boat’s apprenticeship program drew members of President Joe Biden’s administration to Connecticut Tuesday. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh -- formerly governor of Rhode Island and mayor of Boston, respectively -- were at the Groton shipyard to tout the company’s efforts to fill skilled labor openings.
Raimondo said that part of her and Walsh’s jobs in the Biden Cabinet will be to expand and improve apprenticeship programs. If they have their way, the American Jobs Plan will soon make it through Congress, providing $48 billion that would fund 1 to 2 million apprentice jobs nationally.
“A lot of Americans continue to struggle after the pandemic and millions of Americans are still without work and struggled all of last year, and apprenticeships are going to be a key piece of helping us dig out,” Raimondo said.
Kevin Graney, president of General Dynamics Electric Boat, says training is key for the shipyard. It’s building two classes of submarines, and to deliver them on time to the U.S. Department of Defense, Electric Boat has to hire thousands more workers in the next few years.
“We hired more than 2,000 last year, and we’ll do that again this year,” Graney said. “We can only achieve this level of hiring by continued partnerships with our training pipelines and with the continued support of our state and federal leaders.”
Like many of the EB apprentices, Arnold Chappell worked there for a few years before being accepted into the program. He got into the program to learn CNC machining about two and a half years after he started working in assembly.
“It’s been one of the best things I could’ve done,” Chappell said. “I learned every machine in our shop and a bunch of different types of machines that will pretty much give me a good baseline for the rest of my life.”
EB has 300 people enrolled in the program. Chappell, a Salem native, is one of 600 Connecticut workers who’ve graduated.
There’s a big sign hanging on a steel fence outside of Electric Boat in Groton. Uncle Sam is featured on the poster with the words “I want you…to get vaccinated.”
As an essential defense supplier, EB hasn’t halted production since the onset of the pandemic. Last year as it stayed open, employees took to Facebook to complain about working in close quarters on ships with their colleagues.
But other than the ability to now get COVID-19 shots on-site, there’s nothing the company is offering to incentivize workers to get vaccinated. The company also isn’t requiring vaccinations.
“A lot of people have gotten their vaccines from the community availability of them,” Graney said, “but recently -- I think about 1,000 just last week, as a matter of fact, here at EB -- about half of that at Quonset Point, the other half of that in Groton.”
More than 17,000 people work at EB facilities. Yet, Graney says, just 5,000 workers at the Connecticut and Quonset Point, Rhode Island, facilities have gotten shots.
A company official said that the number vaccinated is probably higher and that the current figure is based on self-reporting.