Nichols Brothers Hits Pay Dirt on Apprenticeship Grants
NBBB is three for three in its pursuit of apprentice-related grants. In the past month, the Whidbey Island ship builder has learned its grant submissions for expanding and improving its apprentice programs have netted hundreds of thousands of dollars that it is now preparing to invest for the benefit of current and future apprentices. Specific sources of grant funds are from:
- Federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (“WIOA”) funds, totaling $957,255 (as part of Career Connect Team with other partners), administered by Gov. Jay Inslee’s Career Connect Washington Initiative
- American Apprenticeship Initiative Technology to Trades; For over $4,800
- TransPORTs for $25,000
“We are thrilled that these organizations have recognized and is supporting our efforts at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders to continue investing in, growing, and improving our apprentice programs”, said Gavin Higgins, CEO of Nichols Brothers’ Boat Builders. With help of these grant funds, we are now further accelerating the growth of our apprentice programs in many ways, including acquiring equipment that will improve the learning experience for our people. This will help not only our company and the careers / earning power of the new apprentices, but also the regional economy, and the entire marine industry who will have the benefits of a more skilled workforce and improved efficiency which will allow this region to more effectively compete in a challenging market.”
Funds from the WIOA are allocated to a team that was organized by the Northwest Workforce Council, which helps develop labor forces in Island, Skagit, Whatcom and San Juan counties. Alex Kosmides, deputy director of the Northwest Workforce Council, said Nichols Brothers is considered a “key piece of the economy” on Whidbey Island as the largest private employer. The council typically invests in three different industries: manufacturing, construction and health care. Nichols Brothers fit the bill, Kosmides said. “It’s a good thing for Whidbey Island and especially the South End,” Kosmides said. “…It’s a good investment and apprenticeships are an effective way of training.” Kosmides said that they allocating a “substantial chunk” of the nearly $1 million federal grant to NBBB. The 21-month grant will expand NBBB’s state-certified apprenticeship program, which began in 2013, from five to seven positions. NBBB hopes to nearly double its apprentice workforce from 48 to around 90 workers over the next year and a half.
Nichols Brothers’ grant will fund wages for instructors, new training equipment, new curriculum and expanded training resources for the existing five apprenticeships. “We’re always taking on new apprentices because it’s how we develop the company,” said Kevin Corrigan, Director of Human Resources. “It’s about building their skills to replace our aging workforce,” Corrigan said. “We want to create a compelling workplace that people feel that they can continue to learn and grow and develop.” Wages for apprentices will be paid by the company. The company has been operating the training and apprenticeship program and plans to use these funds to provide a much-needed boost in investment funds toward programs that will allow NBBB to improve the learning experience for its apprentices”
Part of the grant will be spent on acquiring state-of-the-art training tools, including virtual reality training experiences that will provide instant feedback and develop muscle memory for the apprentices without wasting materials during training exercises. “Before our welders even strike an arc, they’ll have a better understanding of the correct position to hold it and how to produce a good weld without going through test plate after test plate after test plate,” said NBBB’s Apprentice Development Coordinator Art Bailly.
Funds from the American Apprenticeship Initiative Technology to Trades (through Bates Technical Community College) are aimed at funding a collaborative effort to implement technology at selected pre-apprenticeship and Registered Apprenticeship programs. With the grant of nearly $5,000 from this source, NBBB will purchase technology devices such as LED (x-ray) viewers to more accurately evaluate overall weld quality. In addition, it will purchase a library of handheld computer devices to facilitate more mobile training delivery throughout the shipyard. Acquiring and using these technology devices will attract, train and retain a younger workforce, and make our apprenticeship program more fast-paced and better geared toward the social media generation. The newly-acquired technology-based training experiences will engage the newest entrants to our workforce with compelling training and will heighten NBBB’s ability to recruit, develop, and retain those with the skills needed to remain a successful enterprise.
Funds from the TransPORTs, estimated to be at least $25,000, will be used to meet our commitment to hire 32 apprentices through June of next year - -and to create a new apprenticeship occupation in the trade of Crane Operations.
Nichols Brothers plans to partner with local organizations that will help in getting the word out to young adults in the area by serving as the real-life manufacturing employer who can make not only employment opportunities, but also job shadow and/or internship programs that will provide broad visibility and access to apprentice programs. NBBB will also to continue serving as a business champion in advocating on the value of apprenticeships as a learning program and career choice. Those interested in applying should contact the company’s human resources department.