The need for skilled workers at General Dynamics Electric Boat will be a top priority through the next decade, according to the company's president, as EB prepares to take on a workload they have not experienced since the 1980s.
"It has been a full generation since we have been producing submarines at this volume," said Kevin Graney, the new president of General Dynamics.
For the first time in 25 years, EB is currently employing more than 17,000 workers. The submarine-building company's number one customer is the US Navy. General Dynamics signed a $22.2 billion federal contract in December to build nine Virginia-class attack submarines through fiscal year 2023.
EB will also start building the next generation Columbia-class submarine in October, a ship that is as long as the Washington Monument. The Columbia-class submarines will be built through 2040.
"This is not feel-good make-work," said Congressman Joe Courtney, representative from the 2nd Congressional District. "This is really the highest priority for the navy."
Congress devoted more than $11 billion to Virginia-class and Columbia-class shipbuilding in last year's budget.
Courtney and Graney both stressed the importance of workforce development moving forward.
A significant amount of the current workforce at EB is retiring. The company will need skilled workers to replace the baby boomers. Graney estimates EB will hire 18,000 new workers in the next decade. Employment is expected to peak at 20,000 by 2029.
Graney said that the manufacturing pipeline through the Eastern CT Workforce Investment Board (EWIB) has been critically important, in addition to training programs at local high schools and colleges.
The company will look to expand those programs and reach more children at younger ages moving forward, according to Graney. He said that students who will be graduating high school in 2030, during peak employment, are in third grade right now.
"We need to kind of reorient our education system starting at the lowest grade levels in terms of STEM education," said Courtney.