Manufacturing pipeline opens path to employment at EB

Groton — David Cassenti has heard that Electric Boat will have enough work building nuclear submarines to last until 2040. He'll be 67 by then, he said, and most likely looking to retire.

"I'm looking for a career, something I can spend the rest of my working life in," said Cassenti, 44, of East Haddam, who taught math for 16 years. The last two of those years, he's worked as a substitute teacher, which hasn't provided enough income for him to support his family, he said. He has a wife and two kids.

Expanding on the success of programs designed to churn out large numbers of skilled trades workers, the Manufacturing Pipeline Initiative has expanded its training offerings to include a design and drafting program. The initiative was established by the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board in partnership with employers like EB, community colleges, technical high schools and workforce development groups.

The program, which has served 164 people so far, is funded through a $6 million Department of Labor grant. Going forward, it'll be a matter of sustaining the program from a funding standpoint, said Marjorie Valentin, associate dean of workforce and community education at Three Rivers Community College.

On Monday, 18 students of varying ages and backgrounds began the design class, a five-week, 150-hour program taking place at Ella T. Grasso Technical High School. All the students have received conditional offers to work as marine draftsmen at EB. The starting salary for a marine draftsman is in the $17 to $19 per hour range.

The students will learn design and drafting skills, blueprint reading, technical writing and math. But the curriculum also will include "soft skills," said Bret Jacobson, the manufacturing pipeline coordinator, explaining that students will learn what makes a good employee, something most employers describe as difficult to find.

The curriculum was designed by Three Rivers Community College, EB and the Eastern Advanced Manufacturing Alliance to make sure students are learning the skills and using the programs that'll be necessary in their jobs.

While the class does include recent college graduates, many are adults looking to change careers.

Tony Bargnesi, 56, was running the print shop at Fortune Plastics, a trash can liner and bag manufacturer in Old Saybrook, until the facility shut down in April. Its parent company, Novolex, is reportedly consolidating facilities.

Bargnesi has been unemployed since the facility shut down and said he wanted to get a job at EB, which has a good reputation and where it looks as if there will be stable work given some big Navy contracts, but didn't have the skills required. He found out about the manufacturing pipeline program through the Department of Labor.

"The program has tremendous value for someone like me to be able to learn a new trade, gain some more knowledge and continue to work for as long as I can," he said.

Program officials work to remove any barriers a student might have, he added, noting that there are stipends for perfect attendance and money for gas mileage.

Jacobson, the program coordinator, also pointed to the value of being able to utilize space at Grasso Tech, where a major construction project is underway to build a $134.9 million school to replace the current one. The new school will be specifically equipped to train future Electric Boat employees.


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