In late December, Seattle’s Vigor Industrial received a notice to proceed from Washington State Ferries for a fourth 144-car Olympic class ferry, with work slated to begin this month.
The ferry is expected to support about 500 jobs at Vigor’s Seattle Shipyard and contractors around the region. The budget to build the vessel is $122 million, with delivery scheduled for mid-2018.
At a recent Seattle Propeller Club luncheon, Vigor’s Jim Meckley spoke about a crisis in US industry, and shipbuilding in particular. He noted that the country is unintentionally shrinking the pool of industrial workers. “We hear people in Washington DC telling kids, ‘you have to go to college’ to be successful,” he said. “Kids who don’t go to college put on a hard hat and feel like a failure. That shouldn’t be.”
At the same luncheon, Matt Nichols, CEO of Whidbey Island, Washington-based Nichols Bros. Boatbuilders, described the current projects underway at his facility, including four 136-foot ATB tugboats, two 120-foot conventional tugs, two 236-foot expedition-type passenger ships, a 150-foot combination cargo vessel/ferry for American Samoa and the superstructure for the aforementioned Olympic-class ferry to be built at Vigor.
“We’re a small community on an island,” he said. “You can imagine how difficult it is to find qualified workers.” To address the need for skilled craftsmen, the company has devised an in-house training program for its employees. “It’s a three-year course,” Nichols said. “Shipyard workers meet Tuesday and Thursdays nights, and when workers complete the course they can be certified as welders, pipefitters, electricians and crane operators.”
Meanwhile, late last year, the US Maritime Administration (MARAD) announced the 2016 funding availability for its Small Shipyard Grant Program (www.marad.dot.gov). The program makes $4.9 million available for capital and related improvements to Shipyard facilities that will foster “efficiency, competitive operations, and quality ship construction, repair, and reconfiguration.,”
It’s anticipated that between five and 10 applications will be selected for funding, with an average grant amount of about $1 million.
Grants under the program can’t be used to construct buildings or other physical facilities, or to acquire land, but can be used for maritime training programs “to build technical skills and operational productivity in communities where the economies are related to or dependent upon the maritime industry.”
The deadline for applications is February 16, with grants expected to be awarded by April 18.
While a college education is a worthy goal for some, it isn’t for everyone, and we shouldn’t be chasing manufacturing jobs overseas. As Mr. Meckley and Mr. Nichols point out, we should be training our kids to be successful, whether behind a desk, standing at a lathe or operating a crane. Because the US will need more ships, we’ll need people to build them.
Chris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.