November 14, 2003
Austal USA apprentice program pays dividends
In June 2002, the Austal USA yard, in Mobile, Ala., introduced an apprenticeship program. Since then, this program has introduced three classes to its shipbuilding curriculum, which is recognized by the U.S. Labor Board, and has successfully entered into its second year of operation.
Shortly after Austal USA opened its new aluminum shipbuilding facility in February 2001, it joined forces with the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce and Bishop State Community College to formulate a two-year program: Recent high school graduates of Mobile and Baldwin County would be hired as full-time Austal employees (working 34 hours a week in Austal USA's purpose-built facility) as part of an apprenticeship program. They would also attend shipbuilding, aluminum welding, and general engineering classes at Bishop State for 6 hours a week. These employees are paid an hourly wage for a full 40-hour work week and are eligible to receive full benefits, including health, dental, 401k, vacation, and paid holidays. Students within this program have the opportunity to receive a performance-based hourly wage increase every six months. On completing the program, they receive aluminum welding and shipbuilding certification and are promoted to aluminum fabricators at Austal.
To promote this program, representatives of Austal USA, the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, and Bishop State Community College present the program to students at each of the participating high schools. These students are pre-selected with the assistance of the guidance counselors at each school. Each student selected must carry a grade point average of at least 2.0 and must inform the counselors of their interest in the program. After the students listen to the presentation, they are asked to complete a short test to determine their mathematical skills and abilities. They then follow an interview procedure conducted by both Austal and Bishop State before they are invited to participate in the Apprenticeship Program.
Members of Austal's first class which started in June 2002, are now well into their second and final year. There are currently 20 students in total in all three classes. Austal says several "have stood out as having excellent potential to excel in this industry."
They not only recognize the technical benefits this program has to offer but, as Dane Tomberlin of the most recent class to enter the program explained "we're also learning safety skills and time management skills" which are essential for any industrial profession. Asked how well the two portions of the program fit together, Tomberlin answered "both the classroom portion and the hands on training we receive at the Austal facility go hand in hand and fit well together. It's easy to apply what we learn in class to what we do at Austal."
When James Jordan, a fitter apprentice in the group that started in December 2002, was asked to discuss what advice he would give to high school seniors looking for an alternative to a four-year college degree program, he suggested "in the line of aluminum shipfitting, there is no machine that can do your job!" And when Jeremy Gainhouse, the most experienced of the three having been an Austal apprentice since the program's inception in June 2002 was asked if he would recommend Austal's apprenticeship program to a friend he spoke from experience when he answered, "yes, but anyone considering this program needs to make sure they know what's ahead of them," referring to the extremely demanding requirements of the aluminum shipbuilding industry. All three of the apprentices agreed that to succeed in the program you must first "gain the respect of your mentors and know what is expected of you." Once you succeed in those two areas, completing the program becomes much more enjoyable.
Austal USA has delivered two vessels in 2003, a 135 ft monohull dinner cruise yacht and a 143 ft high speed catamaran passenger ferry, both currently in service in New York. Austal is currently building the first high speed vehicle/passenger ferry planned for operation in the continental U.S.A., a 192 ft catamaran scheduled for delivery to Milwaukee, Wisc., in Spring 2004