The following interview is with Maura Dunn. Maura Dunn retired from General Dynamics Electric Boat after 5 years of service. During her tenure Dunn served as Vice President of Human Resources and Administration and Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Facilities. During her tenure, General Dynamics Electric Boat grew from 12,000 to over 17,000 employees and a building program worth more than $1.8 billion was begun.
Tell us a little bit about Electric Boat.
Electric Boat (EB) is a subsidiary of General Dynamics, which is an American aerospace and defense corporation. It’s been the primary builder of submarines for the United States Navy for more than 100 years. EB is headquartered in Groton, Connecticut, and employs more than 16,000 people. Its primary locations also include a hull-fabrication and outfitting facility in Quonset Point, Rhode Island, and a design and engineering facility in New London, Connecticut. EB is one of Rhode Island’s largest employers.
Tell us about the Real Jobs Rhode Island program Pipeline to Manufacturing Careers in Shipbuilding.
In the mid 2010’s, Electric Boat was facing once in a generation growth, which left them needing numerous skilled workers around New England. At the same time, Rhode Island was struggling to come back from the 2007-2008 recession. The “Pipeline to Manufacturing Careers in Shipbuilding” was created in 2015, shortly after then Governor Gina Raimondo took office. The goalThe “Pipeline to Manufacturing Careers in Shipbuilding” is a Real Jobs Rhode Island (Real Jobs) Partnership designed to meet Electric Boat’s immediate and future large-scale hiring needs. The partnership strategy is two-fold: 1) use the company, Department of Labor and Training (DLT), Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI), and New England Tech resources to recruit, train (or retrain) and place talented Rhode Islanders for the high paying jobs at Electric Boat and 2) build the foundations for long term workforce by modernizing and expanding Rhode Island’s high school career and tech programs that provide graduates with genuine opportunities in shipbuilding. To build the pipeline, the partnership expanded career and technical education programs in maritime trades and expanded the Electric Boat’s summer internship program.
Electric Boat and the Rhode Island Department of Education worked closely with the National Maritime Education council to develop a customized curriculum to be implemented in the new and expanded Career and Technical Education programs. Since its inception hundreds of students have been enrolled in these programs with many choosing to start and build their careers at EB.
The Pipeline to Manufacturing Careers in Shipbuilding Partnership works because it begins with a focused understanding of EB’s immediate and long-term workforce needs. EB provides insights into its workforce needs in Rhode Island, partners with Skills for Rhode Island’s and the DLT to recruit applicants and works with the state’s higher educational institutions to create adult workforce training programs; and partnering to find applicants and post-employment training models. Rhode Island helps recruit workers, develops, certifies and delivers training through its comprehensive high schools, career and technical skills and higher educational institutions like the Community College of Rhode Island and partners with EB on post-employment management and leadership development training.
Can you tell us how the Rhode Island Governor’s office/Secretary Raimondo approached the issue that General Boat was having with trying to find skilled workers in Rhode Island? What was the impetus for the Pipeline to Manufacturing Careers in Shipbuilding partnership?
In late 2014, EB was at a crossroads from a workforce perspective. Many of the company’s distinguished shipbuilders in Rhode Island and Connecticut were eligible for retirement. At the same time, because of US Navy investment in new submarines, EB was facing a one in a generation need for skilled workers. Company projections called for a doubling of the workforce in less than 10 years. Given the challenges finding skilled workers across our Country, much of the Navy leadership was uncertain that Connecticut and Rhode Island could produce the necessary skilled shipbuilders in the timeframe required. At roughly the same time, Rhode Island was in the midst of a high profile gubernatorial election that resulted in the election of then Governor Raimondo, now Secretary Raimondo, Secretary of the US Commerce Department. A key element of her campaign was helping Rhode Island recover from the 2007-2008 recession which hit the manufacturing industry particularly hard. Within weeks of her November election, Governor-Elect Raimondo reached out to the President of EB and asked how she and her still forming team could help. The result of this call was a series of meetings between company officials and the Governor-Elect and her transition team to learn about past efforts in trying to partner with EB, the company’s immediate and longer-term hiring needs, and the lack of skilled applicants in the state’s labor pool. During the first meeting, EB outlined its needs and told the Governor that the company had received outreach from the state but that there was little to show for the state’s outreach efforts. In fact, there had been fewer than 5 hires from DLT referrals in the preceding year. The then Governor-Elect promised that when she was inaugurated, she would rectify that situation and partner with EB to develop the workforce needed to meet the US Navy’s demand for submarines. Within weeks, the Pipeline for Manufacturing in Shipbuilding was born.
Can you tell us a little more about the Electric Boat Trade prep school and what the implementation looked like?
In the 1970’s and 80’s, the US Navy had recapitalized its submarine force. As the lead design-builder of submarines, EB underwent a period of tremendous growth and expansion which included the creation of its Quonset Point manufacturing facility. As the demand for submarines slumped, both EB and its home states of Connecticut and Rhode Island reduced their investment in career and technical training. At the federal level, the budget for workforce development programs failed to keep up pace with growth in the US population and the programs that remain often emphasized skills needed in the service sectors. Fast forward to 2014, faced with a tremendous need for skilled workers to meet the demand created by the Country’s need for new submarines and the potential retirement of thousands of experienced shipbuilders, EB and its home states realized they needed to work together to create the programs needed to train both high school students and workers in lower paying jobs to become the next generation of shipbuilders. Given the immediate needs, the initial focus was on creating programs to retrain people already in the workforce for careers in shipbuilding. Building off a very small previous effort with New England Institute of Technology to create welders, leaders from across Rhode Island worked with EB’s Human Relations and Operations teams to develop a profile of the skills required for entry level jobs in a variety of trades including welding, pipefitting and electrical. The goal became using the state’s higher educational resources including Community College of Rhode Island to develop certificate programs, industry standards, and company requirements that would provide graduates with meaningful credentials that were stackable towards professional licensing or additional schooling.
The duration of the programs vary by trade. Welding, which is highly complex, requires 14 to 16 weeks to take a person from unskilled to a skilled beginner level. Upon successful completion of training, each graduate is eligible to interview at EB. Historically, EB has hired a large percentage of these graduates, but what is key is that graduates have skills that can be applied in a variety of industries or with EB suppliers in the area.
At the high school level, EB and the Rhode Island Department of Education have partnered to adapt the curricula used for adults to work within the structure of a high school/career and technical school day. Students attend traditional academic classes while learning skills needed to work in industry. The goal is to give students through their experiences in the classroom and summer internships available at EB and elsewhere real-life skills that can be used immediately upon graduation. Governor Raimondo was always very proud of telling the story of what happened when the partnership launched the program at Davies Career and Tech. The first year there were three graduates and they all got offers from EB. As the students were graduating, Governor Raimondo arranged to meet with the students, so she could hear about their experiences in the program and at EB. She was equally fond of telling what happened afterwards. The program had 20 students the next year, and the growth has continued.
Once the program was in place was there a ripple effect? Were there other states or any other programs created within GB that used Real Jobs Rhode Island as a model?
Aside from the exponential growth in students at the high school level, the fundamentals of the Pipeline program have flourished in other states and programs. Connecticut has reinvested in its career and technical high schools under Governor Lamont’s leadership. Like in Rhode Island, EB has partnered with leaders in the Department of Education and in Connecticut’s community college to retool existing programs so that they more closely align with the needs of the state’s large defense industry and its suppliers. Virginia is home to EB’s partner on the Virginia Class of submarines and subcontractor on the Columbia Class, Newport News Shipbuilding. Like Rhode Island, Virginia has partnered with Newport News Shipbuilding and its supply chain to address workforce needs there. EB suppliers report that they’re now working in partnership with their home states and/or local economic development authorities to build the workforce of the future. It’s exciting to see the revitalization of so many workforce development programs aimed at addressing the needs of America’s manufacturers. It’s also exciting to see lives being transformed as workers gain new skills that provide them with higher incomes and benefits.