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Electric Boat, seeking thousands of employees, looks at a workforce yet to be born

In an Oct. 20, 2018 photo, ship sponsor Gloria Valdez, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development and Acquisitions), breaks a bottle of wine to christen the Virginia-class, fast-attack submarine Pre-Commissioning Unit Vermont (SSN 792), during a ceremony at Electric Boat in Groton, Conn.

STEVEN HOSKINS/U.S. NAVY

By STEPHEN SINGER | The Hartford Courant | Published: February 3, 2020

HARTFORD, Conn. (Tribune News Service) — The pace of submarine construction in southeast Connecticut and Rhode Island is expected to extend decades into the future, requiring General Dynamics Electric Boat to figure out ways to recruit workers not yet born, the new president of the submarine manufacturer told business owners and representatives Monday.

As many as 18,000 welders, pipefitters, designers, painters and others are expected to be hired in the next 10 years, said Kevin Graney, who took the top job Oct. 1.

About 17,000 currently work at EB, which is hiring thousands for new jobs and to replace retiring baby boomers. Nearly two-thirds live in Connecticut and about one-third are Rhode Islanders who work at EB’s Quonset Point site.

The workforce is expected to peak at about 20,000 by 2032.

Construction of the next-generation Columbia class is expected to extend to 2040 “so some of the folks that are graduating from high school in 2040 haven’t even been born yet,” he said.

EB expects 2029 to be a peak year in hiring, and high school graduates nine years from now are currently in the third grade. EB operates programs in high schools and elementary schools exposing youngsters to the trades “and build awareness of careers at Electric Boat,” Graney said.

EB relies on job training agencies such as the Eastern Workforce Investment Board, which has identified 9,000 job seekers.

The boom in submarine manufacturing follows a shift in U.S. military strategy looking at threats from Russia and Iran.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., a member of the House Armed Services Committee and chairman of a key subcommittee, said bipartisan support in Congress is propelling defense spending, including for ship- and submarine-building.

“The priority that I think has steadily grown over the years in terms of recognizing the underseas domain as an area that we really need to invest in,” he said.

General Dynamics Corp., the parent company of Electric Boat, and the U.S. Navy signed a $22 billion contract in early December for nine submarines, and possibly a 10th that Graney said he’s confident will be secured.

The contract provides for materials and construction of up to 10 Virginia class submarines through 2023. It includes funding for nine Virginia class submarines advanced funding for components for a 10th submarine.

To keep up with the new submarine demand, EB has been hiring and expanding its supplier base. Last year, it surpassed 17,000 employees for the first time since 1992.

In September, a ceremonial groundbreaking marked the start of construction of a 200,000-square-foot assembly building that will extend into the Thames River. It’s part of an $850 million expansion at the shipyard. EB will expand and update other manufacturing spaces and build a floating dry dock to launch Columbia submarines.

ssinger@courant.com

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