Pascagoula, Miss., shipbuilder Halter Marine is creating jobs and, through its partnership with Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC), training the apprentices to fill them. The program launched with a recent apprenticeship orientation session.
The apprenticeship program is designed in three components: on-the-job training, classroom training and a progressive wage increase as participants reach set milestones. It offers training in the craft labor fields of welding, ship fitting, pipe fitting, pipe welding and electrical.
With the exception of pipe welding, each of the apprenticeship programs is four years in length while pipe welding is three years. Ten students are enrolled in each of the five disciplines for a total of 50 apprentices.
“Because of our contract with the U.S. Coast Guard to build the new Polar Security Cutter, we must double our workforce, and we can’t do it alone,” said Bob Merchent, President and CEO of Halter Marine. “We need this apprenticeship program, and the partnership of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. The Polar Security Cutter program is making us more sustainable for the future and that of our employees who will have job security for many years.”
The apprentices are following maritime technology curriculum approved by the Mississippi Community College Board. The curriculum comprises 10 to 12 classes in support of their craft, plus management/leadership classes. The classes are being taught as noncredit, workforce classes, but the apprentices will have the opportunity to convert their noncredit classes into credit through competency-based exams.
“The concentration of a skilled shipbuilding workforce on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is to U.S. shipbuilding what Annapolis is to the U.S. Navy,” said Kevin Amis, Executive Vice President of Operations for Halter Marine. “All of these roles will prepare us for building the Polar Security Cutters. This is the right time to train workers in Jackson County and along the Gulf Coast.”
The apprenticeship program is a new workforce-training model for Halter Marine to ensure consistently high-quality shipbuilders, enabling Halter Marine to successfully pursue federal shipbuilding contracts. Apprentices will be assigned to employee mentors to guide them throughout the program.
“Halter Marine plans to begin new registered apprentices each fall for several years,” said Gayle Brown, MGCCC grants and special projects developer. “Additionally, six other crafts have been approved by the U.S. Department of Labor for Halter Marine to apprentice, so when the company is ready, the college will stand up those programs as well.”
The demand for skilled labor is increasing in Mississippi, said Tonya Neely, director of the Mississippi Apprenticeship Program and Business Engagement for the Mississippi Community College Board. Not only is this program beneficial for apprentices and Halter Marine, this program will strengthen Mississippi’s pipeline of skilled workers and contribute to creating a thriving Mississippi economy, she said.
“The new program at Halter Marine will increase our skilled labor pipeline and provide Mississippians with an opportunity for long-term career growth in a good paying job,” Neely said. “The partnership with Halter Marine demonstrates what is possible when companies think differently about recruiting and training new team member. Apprenticeships are a proven workforce development strategy that offers employment opportunities for Mississippians that allows them to learn new skills while earning a good paying job.”