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Thousands of new manufacturing workers will be needed due to submarine production

Electric Boat and its suppliers will need thousands of new workers over the new decade due to the unprecedented buildup in submarine production.

Workforce development officials in the region say they are prepared to find and train the needed workers and are planning to target the large number of people out of work due to the coronavirus pandemic for some of these job opportunities. 

That was the message Thursday at a virtual forum on workforce development in the submarine industry hosted by U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who said the event was spurred by concerns expressed at Electric Boat’s annual business briefing about whether the region was ready to take on the workforce challenge.

EB’s president Kevin Graney said at the Feb. 1 briefing that a demand for more advanced and stealthy U.S. submarines, driven by continued investments by China and Russia in their undersea fleets, is resulting in a historic amount of work for the company.

EB is involved in both the construction of two attack submarines per year and a new class of ballistic-missile submarines. The company currently employs about 17,000 employees, about 12,000 of whom work in Connecticut.

This year, Electric Boat is planning to hire 1,100 people, 600 of them engineers, to fill jobs left by the large number of people retiring.

The company also plans to hire 250 trades and support workers to replace retirees but also to work on major overhaul of the USS Hartford.

While hiring now is focused on engineers, EB plans to double its trades workforce in Groton over the next decade, hiring about 600 people a year.

That will ensure enough employees are in place when construction of the new ballistic missile submarines, which is now primarily being done at EB’s facility in Quonset Point, R.I., shifts to Groton in 2024.

Company officials say EB will also need to continue to get contracts for overhaul work like the Hartford job to sustain this level of employment.

Many of those hired as trades workers in recent years have come through the manufacturing pipeline initiative started by the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board in partnership with community colleges, technical schools and others.

Through the initiative, participants receive skilled job training and often go on to secure employment at EB and other manufacturers after completing the program.

Of those who’ve completed the program and become employed, 80% did not have prior experience working in manufacturing, said Mark Hill, president and CEO of EWIB.

“The attrition and retention of these people on the job is exceeding the people who are hired off the street,” Hill said.

Given that the work by EB and its suppliers spans far into the future, EWIB and others have begun to target high school students for these jobs, and there’s talk of creating programs geared toward middle school students.

Kurt Westby, commissioner of the state Department of Labor, said the department is prepared to work with EWIB to target the program to Connecticut residents who are unemployed as a result of the pandemic.

“Between the growth in the manufacturing in our region and the training program we got to get our workers the opportunities to fill those openings, I think we’ve got a great story here,” Hill said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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