OLD SAYBROOK — Congressman Joe Courtney said Wednesday that Electric Boat is expected to add jobs in the coming years but that schools and governments will need to support workforce training programs to ensure that there are enough workers with the technical skills. Courtney took questions and had lunch with the Rotary Club of Old Saybrook at Luigi’s Restaurant that afternoon.
EB and the U.S. Navy are currently working on a contract — which Courtney said was worth roughly $20 billion — that would have the Groton-based manufacturer building at least nine Virginia-class submarines between fiscal years 2019 and 2023.
To meet those goals, Courtney said, EB will likely to need grow its relevant workforce from about 17,000 to about 23,000 in the next five to six years.
“A lot of baby boomers working the yard are getting near to retirement, and so to get 22 or 23,000 you need to hire more than 7,000,” Courtney said. “You need to hire closer to 10 or 12,000. And that’s where frankly, for local government, state government, and the federal government, it’s all about workforce.”
He continued, “You don’t walk in off the street and start working in a shipyard, whether it’s metal work, design work, engineering, you name it. It requires a skilled workforce to make that happen. And that means we need to be focused like a laser in terms of our tech schools, community colleges, high schools, and regular STEM curriculum because that’s the fit that works for us to know that we can get this done.”
Courtney said this is where Connecticut’s education policy lines up with federal contracts lines up individuals getting careers with which they can support families.
“If you look at the number of job openings in the economy right now, they’re very high, but people cannot find the employees who have the skills gap closed,” he said. “There are good jobs, but you can’t just walk off the street and start working there. That’s true at Pratt [& Whitney], that’s true at Sikorsky, that’s true at Hartford Insurance Group, and that’s true really almost anywhere.”
Courtney, a resident of Vernon, has represented eastern Connecticut in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2007. He currently chairs the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, and also sits on the Committee on Education and the Workforce.
The education committee has been working on a College Affordability Act that Courntey said would take the federal grant and loan programs that help students pay for higher education and update them to be more accessible.
“We want to make sure someone can use some of these programs for nontraditional skills to get the workforce ready for what’s out there now,” Courtney said. “We have lots of input from stakeholders. We’re going to start holding colleges and universities a little more accountable for how they spend and how they charge tuition, from which frankly there’s been some heartburn and blowback quite frankly even from my friends at the University of Connecticut.”
Courtney pointed to training in areas such as cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing as being those that will remain in demand and provide workers careers for the decades to come.
Meeting this demand for technical skills “is a good problem to have,” he said. “And I think if you look across the region, you see that the schools are getting it.”