A second-chance career
A shipyard-community college partnership addresses skilled labor, unemployment
A maritime welding program, jointly created by Vigor Industrial and South Seattle College, is part of a greater initiative in Washington state-to return idled workers to gainful employment. The class doesn’t just help the underemployed, it also helps feed the resurging shipbuilding industry in the greater Seattle area.
Displaced workers in the greater Seattle area now have a solid training option available thanks to a partnership between industry and education.
Those who meet the eligibility requirements can now earn maritime welding training through a partnership formed by South Seattle College, Seattle, Wash., and Vigor Industrial, a Portland, Ore.-based shipbuilder with six locations in Washington and Alaska, including a facility in Seattle. Conversations began in the fall of 2012 between the two parties to start up a maritime welding program to help boost the number of skilled workers for the resurging shipbuilding industry. Within six to seven months of initial conversation, Vigor and South Seattle College had secured the operating funding and facility and recruited the students. By July 2013, training was in full swing.
The FABRICATOR® sat down with Wendy Price, dean of workforce development for South Seattle College, and Ken Johnson, lead instructor of the maritime welding program at Vigor, to discuss the partnership, the program, and the impact that it has had on the lives of those it strives to serve.
The FABRICATOR: How did the partnership between the college and Vigor come together?
Price: Sue Haley, the senior vice president of human resources at Vigor, connected with our vice chancellor of the district to discuss training initiatives and opportunities. Sue mentioned a partnership that Vigor had developed at their headquarters in Portland with Portland Community College. She was interested in that model and replicating it up here in Seattle.
The FABRICATOR: What were some of the logistics that needed to be worked out?
Price: Vigor identified space on-site at the shipyard at their Harbor Island facility—they had an 8,000-sq.-ft. warehouse that was only being used for storage. Within six months the company had invested in renovations to outfit 24 weld stations. We worked together to request an appropriation for the college from the state legislature for operating expenses for the center.
One of the key partnerships that has helped us launch this center is with our Workforce Development Council [WDC] here in Seattle-King County. They’ve actually funded the first two cohorts who have gone through the training through federal workforce investment dollars. They have provided tuition assistance and support for consumables and classroom training materials. That’s been a really important aspect that has allowed students who are coming from unemployment, dislocation, and low-income situations to have the resources to come to training every day and get their boots, hoods, and books.
Because the WDC is funding the course, there are eligibility requirements, so dislocated workers, people receiving unemployment benefits or who are at a low-income threshold, and veterans have priority. Funding is through the Rapid Response, which is geared toward a specific population. Although we’ve had students from 18 years of age all the way up to their 60s, a majority have been in the early-30s to mid-40s range.
We do the World of Work Inventory (WOWI®) assessment, an academic screening for meeting a threshold for reading and math, and we also do a preliminary drug screening.
The FABRICATOR: Can you give us a glimpse into the program?
Johnson: The program is five days a week and lasts for six months. Before they come into the program, we put students through what we call a “Challenge Week,” where they earn their OHSA 10 certification, their forklift certification, and their CPR and first aid cards. Once that’s completed, they come into the class and they have to take the WOWI. We then focus on the four processes that are used in shipbuilding. With that, application and process are broken up into the filler metals, the materials, the mechanical testing, the certification requirements, code, standards, and specifications. We get down into the weld symbols, and they also get an overview of nondestructive testing and blueprints. We also have a math class that relates math to welding.
We target the structural welding applications for the requirements of shipbuilding, so we do a lot of practice with the four common fillet weld positions. When they have good acceptance profiles for their welds and they can do it repetitively for each position, they progress to the certification test plate. Once they pass their X-ray, then they are a qualified certified welder and can enter the shipyard, be prequalified, and won’t have to take a welding test. Each welder performs 30 to 40 pounds of wire per position, which is equivalent to producing approximately 120 ft. of weld.
Price: Students that complete the course earn 38 college credits, and those are transferrable credits up to a minimum of our welding technology associate degree. They can take those credits to other technical schools as well.
The FABRICATOR: How has the program been received by students and area employers?
Johnson: Everything I’ve heard out in industry is very positive. The employers come in and speak positively about how the students are performing. We’ve had their supervisors come in and let us know how their work skills are and if they’re progressing well. It’s a great starting point for someone looking to get into the shipbuilding industry.
The FABRICATOR is North America's leading magazine for the metal forming and fabricating industry. The magazine delivers the news, technical articles, and case histories that enable fabricators to do their jobs more efficiently. The FABRICATOR has served the industry since 1971.