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Electric Boat president can't stress it enough: 'We're hiring!'

Kevin Graney, Electric Boat’s president, has given his advertising people the word.

Over the next few weeks, he better not see a televised NFL game that fails to feature ads about EB’s eagerness — its need — to hire workers.

As residents of southeastern Connecticut have known for some time now, EB’s been on a roll, having landed billions of dollars in government contracts for submarine work that promise to keep its shipyards humming for decades, assuming it can hire and train the thousands of skilled workers it needs to get the job done.

“I told the people who do our TV advertising, I don’t want to watch a football game without seeing one of our ads,” Graney told an online audience Friday, delivering a keynote address during the Connecticut Business & Industry Association’s annual Economic Summit + Outlook conference.

“If you can fit or weld, come on down,” Graney said.

With a dozen Virginia-class fast-attack submarines under construction at its Groton facility and the first Columbia-class ballistic-missile behemoth being built in pieces at its Quonset Point, R.I., yard before being shipped to Groton, hiring is EB’s top priority for the foreseeable future.

EB hired more than 2,500 employees in 2021, two-thirds of them fitters, welders, machinists, electricians and other skilled tradesmen, Graney said. The other third were designers. Half of the new hires were from Connecticut.

Three weeks into the new year, 92 more new people have come on board.

Through advertising and recruiting efforts in schools and community colleges, EB is seeking to reach “those who don’t know they want to be shipbuilders.” The message is that EB offers careers as opposed to mere jobs, with ample opportunity for advancement.

During 2021, EB's ongoing physical expansion altered the skylines of Groton and Quonset Point, the growth achieved despite a dip in overall productivity due to COVID-19. While the shipyards remained open throughout the pandemic because of their “essential” status as a government contractor, a high rate of absenteeism and reductions in efficiency took a toll, according to Graney.

He said 86% of EB’s workforce has been vaccinated against the coronavirus disease without the imposition of a mandate. Requiring vaccinations would have cost the company many workers “we couldn’t afford to lose,” he said.

Since Thanksgiving, the omicron variant of the virus has been on a rampage at EB facilities as it has been in other locations. Graney said 40% of EB’s COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic in March 2020 have occurred in the past eight weeks.

EB has seen higher-than-usual rates of attrition and retirement and, in general, is finding it harder to hire and retain employees, he said, noting that most other businesses also are having to cope with such trends.

With a workforce of 18,000 employees, 62% of them in Connecticut, EB already is the biggest private employer in Connecticut and Rhode Island. 

Graney presented a video review of 2021 that provided evidence of the $1.8 billion investment General Dynamics, EB's parent company, is making in EB’s facilities. Early 2021 saw the completion of the support structure for the South Yard Assembly Building, where some 1,400 shipbuilders eventually will put together the pieces of the Columbia-class submarine. Now, the building’s structural steel is in place, and insulated panels that will form its “skin” will go up early this year.

“Seeing the 200,000-square-foot building take shape makes it real,” Graney says in the video. “The Columbia program will provide careers and economic stability for decades for the region ...”

In 2021, EB also broke ground on a 70,000-square-foot building in Groton that will house the radiological emergency response team, naval reactor personnel, a nuclear test team and an emergency control center.

In Quonset Point, EB tradespeople are building the Columbia modules that will be transported to Groton by the 400-foot-long Ocean Transport Barge Holland, which arrived in Groton in November.

The first Columbia module is expected to arrive in Groton in 2023.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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