In hunt for a career, hundreds flock to EB fair in Westerly

Westerly — Cyrus Connors stood in line at the Westerly Education Center, waiting to speak to an Electric Boat staffing representative about his interest in becoming a shipfitter or sheet metal worker.

Connors is a 2015 Grasso Tech alumnus and works in construction, so he has the carpentry-based skills that would suit him well in shipfitting. His grandfather was a sheet metal worker, employed at Electric Boat for about 35 years.

Connors likes construction, but it's not something he wants to do forever.

The Ledyard resident said of EB, "I know it's somewhere I can start a career in, and stay and grow within the company."

He was one of 390 people to attend a job fair that EB held at the Westerly Education Center from 2 to 6 p.m. Thursday. It was the second job fair the center held for EB, after a November event drew 400 hopefuls.

The company is looking to hire 14,000 people in Connecticut and Rhode Island over the next 10 years, according to human resources chief Brian Howard. Most of that will be to replace employees who are retiring or otherwise departing, with growth of about 4,000 positions.

EB is looking to hire 200 people to work in the trades in Groton by the end of 2018, and 500 — mostly in the trades — to work in Quonset by the end of March.

Howard said entry-level jobs start at $14 an hour and progress based on experience. The jobs being advertised at Thursday's job fair were in shipfitting, pipefitting, machining, sheet metal, welding, electrical and painting.

When it comes to job fairs, Howard sees a lot of people who have served in the military, are at the start of their careers or are underemployed.

U.S. Army Capt. James Locke, 34, decided to come to the job fair after seeing the event pop up on his Facebook feed. Donta Baker, a delivery driver who previously worked as a mechanic, talked about wanting a career job with good pay, noting he has a child to take care of.

Similarly, 26-year-old New London resident Joseph Pabon commented, "I'm a family guy, I have a son, I'm looking to provide."

Pabon works in casino security now but said he is looking for more of a career than a job, and he is interested in welding, a trade in which family members worked while he was growing up.

Katie Parker, a teaching assistant in Groton, was looking to get into sheet metal work, to do something hands-on. She worked at Electric Boat from 2014 to 2015 as a manager for the Fairwater Store, but she said she was laid off when the store was sold to a separate company.

The Westerly Education Center was a natural fit to host the job fair, as it trains EB employees in pipefitting, sheet metal and electrical. It trained about 400 people for EB last year, according to Executive Director Amy Grzybowski.

The center celebrated its one-year anniversary on Jan. 9. Since its inception, it has contained simulated fabrication areas and a mockup of a submarine hull section.

This simulated environment was the last stop for prospective hires at the job fair. Upon arrival, they would get a number, go up to a computer room to apply for jobs and then return to the simulated environment, where they would wait in line to review their profile with one of a dozen staffing representatives and schedule an interview.

Electric Boat will be one of several companies at the Warwick Mall in Rhode Island for a hiring fair on Friday, and the company holds info sessions at jobs centers in Rhode Island and Connecticut.

"Over the last three years, we've aggressively marketed not only our immediate needs but our future growth," said Howard, the human resources chief.

Those who didn't attend the job fair in Westerly but are interested in applying for a job at EB can visit gdeb.com/careers.

e.moser@theday.com

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