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Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard apprentice program marks 100 years, graduates a class of 208

USS Jefferson City (SSN 759) departs Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. (U.S. Navy photo by Amanda R. Gray)

The centennial of the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard apprentice program this year has been marked by highs and lows but continues to be a big success in providing local residents good-paying jobs at the state’s largest industrial employer.

A total of 208 apprentices recently graduated and the shipyard is only getting busier, with a growing demand for the attack submarines that account for the vast majority of work done there.

The downside was the Dec. 4 shooting of three shipyard workers—two of whom were apprentices—by a 22-year-old sailor on the submarine USS Columbia, which was undergoing maintenance.

The Navy never determined a motive for the shooting. Machinist Mate Auxiliary Fireman Gabriel A. Romero turned a pistol on himself after killing two workers, Vincent Kapoi Jr. and Roldan Agustin, and wounding a third, Roger Nakamine.

A Navy investigation found “the shooting only lasted a few seconds from beginning to end.”

“To this year’s 208 apprentice graduates : it has been a year like none other, ” Capt. Greg Burton, commander of the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility, said in a written address.

“Extreme lows, sure, but also some historic achievements, ” Burton said. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you did not get a graduation ceremony with your classmates, family and friends. While different than we imagined, we are working hard to celebrate your superb accomplishments.”

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the apprentice program that was begun in 1920.

“At that time, the shipyard hired and trained local talent to become the skilled workforce required to maintain the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet. This tradition has proudly continued for the past century, ” Beverly Higa, the apprentice program administrator, said on the shipyard’s Facebook page.

The shipyard apprentice program is a four-year program that includes a two-year educational component in coordination with Honolulu Community College, said shipyard spokeswoman Kate Necaise.

THE FIRST two years of the program include a mix of academic classes, trade training and on-the-job learning, while the final two years include additional trade training with more in-depth on-the-job learning. All program components take place on-site at the shipyard, including academic classes.

Graduates earn an associate of applied science degree from HCC and a full-time shipyard job, Necaise said. Apprentices are paid throughout the training program with average pay about $21 an hour, depending on the trade, she said.

After graduation, and depending on the specific job assignment, the hourly rate can range between $30 and $34 an hour, Necaise said. Some painters or carpenters could start at $30.53 an hour, while a welder or pipefitter could begin at $32.52 an hour.

The jobs are competitive, with the Navy saying less than 5 % of applicants are accepted.

According to Necaise, over the past five years, as part of a plan to combat attrition, the shipyard made a “concerted effort ” to increase hiring and saw a more than 20 % workforce growth.

“Current demographics show that we now have a younger workforce and less of those who fall into the ‘retirement eligible’ category, ” she said. “The shipyard plans to hire, on average, approximately 420 new employees per year over the next three fiscal years, thus projecting an estimated additional 3 % growth to our workforce over that same period.”

The shipyard has approximately 6, 000 civilian workers and 500 military workers. Contractors take care of surface ship work at Dry Dock 4 and are not counted as part of the civilian workforce.

IN THE apprentice program’s centennial year, Burton told the graduates they should “feel a great sense of pride.”

“You have joined a long list of heroes that breathe life into our motto, ‘We Keep Them Fit to Fight, ‘” he said. “Heroes like the shipyard workers and sailors who salvaged the F-4 submarine in 1915 in the waters off Hono ­lulu. Heroes like crane operator George Walters who used his crane to distract enemy fighter planes from USS Pennsylvania in Dry Dock No. 1 on Dec. 7, 1941.”

More than 5, 800 men and women have graduated from the shipyard apprentice program.

Burton noted the ships and submarines the shipyard supports operate in highly contested environments. Returning Navy vessels “fit to fight ” is as critical as ever, he said.

“However, the pace is increasing, ” he said. “We have to develop more capacity and increase productivity.”


(c) 2020 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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