BATH — Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer praised the workforce development training to prepare workers for careers at Bath Iron Works during an Armed Service Committee hearing last week.

Maine U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd District, asked Navy officials to explain what they were doing to ensure that there would be people willing and able to work in careers in the nation’s shipyards, especially as many of those careers require special skills. While Spencer noted efforts were taking place across the country, he specified the work going on in Maine to make his point.

“It’s happening throughout the whole shipbuilding industry. It’s happening on both sides of the Mississippi, but I’m going to bring Maine up as an example,” Spencer said.

Spencer drew upon two visits he’s made to Bath Iron Works as secretary of the Navy. The first occurred in 2017, shortly after he was confirmed as secretary, while the second occurred in February of this year. For Spencer, the difference between his first visit and his second was notable.

“The community colleges in the area there had no exposure or plans to have curriculum to support what the basic skill sets are, not the high schools. I was very encouraged on my last visit up a month ago to see that both the community and the high schools are adopting primary skill sets and advanced curriculum in this area,” Spencer said. “I mean, across the board in the U.S., I think we have to address this because at the end of the day, a level III welder and/or any other artisan in the shipbuilding/aviation assembling field, it’s a very nice career to have.”

Southern Maine Community College offers both manufacturing technician and welding training to prepare students for work at Bath Iron Works. The courses, which are offered at the college’s campus at Brunswick Landing, give students the skills and knowledge needed to work at the shipyard or one of Bath Iron Works’ other locations.

According to a brochure for the program, the welding course meets for three days a week for about two months. The company even conducts interviews with applicants following completion of the program. Earlier this month, 27 students graduated from those programs, and the next welding course starts on April 23. The programs have been in place since 2017, and just last year the college bought 10 new welding stations to strengthen the program.

The shipyard also had its own apprenticeship program for many years. The apprenticeship covers many of its trades, from pipefitters to electricians. The program involved about 8,000 hours of work experience with nearly 1,000 hours in the classroom. The program is fully accredited, and participants receive a diploma from Bath Iron Works, journeyman certification from the state of Maine, and an associate of science degree from Maine Maritime Academy.

Bath Iron Works representatives have also participated in recent job fairs and gone to college campuses to recruit new workers, including most recently in Auburn at a showcase event hosted by Central Maine Community College just last week.

“This is really something that’s exciting around the nation, and every one of our shipbuilding centers and ship repair centers as well, both public and private,” said Chief of Navy Operations Admiral John Richardson.

“I think the community colleges in Maine are doing a good job, and the unions have got some great apprenticeship training programs. They really make an investment in the workers and helping young people get set up for success,” Golden told the officials.

Earlier this year, Golden was appointed to the House Armed Services Committee and Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, which has oversight of U.S. military shipyard operations.

“I know you both know from experience that producing people with the right skill sets isn’t something that occurs overnight. It takes a great deal of training and instruction, so I was very pleased by both of your remarks where you put emphasis on the importance of education and training,” Golden said.

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.