Published July 10. 2014 2:23PM Updated July 11. 2014 12:02AM
Groton — About two dozen seventh- and eighth-graders from the region got a firsthand look Thursday at how Electric Boat shipyard workers manufacture components for the nation’s nuclear submarine force.
The students, participants in a new program called the Young Manufacturers Academy coordinated by the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board, wore yellow hardhats and green ear protection as they toured EB’s mammoth machine shop, where robotic devices do much of the work.
They also got an overview of the sub building process in EB’s model room, where scaled replicas of the nation’s attack and ballistic-missile submarines hold sway.
“We build submarines, which is the most complicated product known to man,” declared Howard Jenkins, manager of public relations at EB.
“The lives of the crew members aboard these ships depend on what we do,” said Chris Lane, an EB employee for nearly four decades and a member of the company’s public affairs staff. “It’s pretty exciting stuff.”
Participants Charlie Ritter of Groton and Eli Doggart of East Lyme agreed, saying the EB tour was one of the highlights of the five-day program, which concludes today.
“I like manufacturing,” said Doggart, who added that he expected to be making a race car today using a 3D printer.
The Young Manufacturers Academy, meant to encourage middle schoolers to begin exploring a career in the trades to offset the aging of the local manufacturing workforce, has introduced students to Lean Manufacturing concepts, computer-assisted design and other fundamentals.
“The program focuses on teamwork, collaboration, problem solving, and communication — critical 21st century skills that contribute to future workplace success,” according to a program description. “Introducing a new generation of students to today’s manufacturing and attracting them to manufacturing-related careers is critical to the future of the industry as well as regional economic prosperity.”
The five-day summer program, geared primarily toward students in Groton and New London, is based on a model developed at the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology in East Hartford that has been introduced in other parts of the state in the past. Funding originally came from a national grant awarded by the Motorola Solutions Foundation, and the workforce board helped implement the program in partnership with the Eastern Advanced Manufacturing Alliance that includes EB among its members.
During the course of the EB visit, students learned about a new U.S. program called the Universal Launch and Recovery Module that will allow for the deployment of small, unmanned vessels from the missile tubes of submarines. They also got a quick bus tour of the yard, where they saw a helicopter landing areas for dignitaries, a pre-staging area where nuclear reactors are kept and a training facility for workers to update their skills.
“We’re always going to school; we’re always being retrained because the industry and technology are constantly changing,” said EB employee Don Kniss, a carpenter by trade.
Inside the machine shop, large components such as the metal framework of submarine escape hatches and the weapons cradle upon which torpedoes sit lay on the floor as workers showed students how various machines worked.
“Study hard — get Ph.Ds — don’t go to work here,” one worker yelled to the students with a smile as the tour wound its way to a conclusion.
With many of EB’s skilled tradesmen now in their mid-50s, that may not have been the message that management wanted students to hear. But some, including Ritter and Doggart, had already come to a similar conclusion.
“I don’t think I’d want to (work here),” said Ritter, who preferred the idea of doing intelligence work for the National Security Agency.