Outside Machinist program provides pre-hire training for shipyard

Outside Machinist program provides pre-hire training for shipyard
Trades training instructor Hugh Gibson, from left, shows Elvin Hughes, Artie Lewis, Alina Bennett, Precious Hall, Felicia Ross and Ryan Marsh how to drill and tap a leveled hole for a bolt during the outside machinist class on the Hobbs Suffolk Campus.

(Suffolk, VA) – Before the birds sound their first chirps, it is wheels to the pavement. By daybreak and perhaps before breakfast, minds are already exercising math mode. If converting fractions to decimals isn’t enough to heighten awakenings, maybe measuring to 1000th of an inch will do the job. 

That is not even the first half of the academic day in the lives of six Paul D. Camp Community College students who are enrolled in the Marine Trade Training Outside Machinist Level 1 pre-hire program. Each morning, four students drive from Newport News, one from Bertie County, NC, and one from nearby in Suffolk. The good thing is that they will only be making that haul for class from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for two weeks. After that, they will be reporting to work as trainees at area shipyards and receiving a paycheck to boot.

Hugh Gibson, known by his current class as Mr. G, serves as a trades training instructor for the program at Camp. He retired after 27 years in production at the Outside Machinist Department of Newport News Shipbuilding, currently Huntington Ingalls Industries. During the last 11 years on the job, he also conducted waterfront trades training.

According to Gibson, the program has served 218 students since its implementation in November 2017. “We have at least a 95 pass rate,” he said of the program. “Some of our students continue to work while they are enrolled in the program.”

The outside machinist program is 80 hours of classroom and hands-on instruction on the Hobbs Suffolk Campus. Students apply for positions in the shipyard industry and are screened and selected by the Virginia Ship Repair Association to attend the class. And while it is not a guarantee that the students will be hired, the program prepares them for the trainee positions available at Huntington Ingalls Industries, BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair, and soon, other local ship building and repair companies.

Precious Hall, 24, of Bertie County, is a single mother who recently graduated from Elizabeth City State University with a degree in business administration. She and her classmates were in the beginning of their second week of the program when interviewed.

“I wanted to gain more knowledge in a different field,” she said. “This will provide a long term career for me and my 5-year-old son.” Hall said she had gained a lot of knowledge in the classes. “I am excited,” she said. “I’m glad I enrolled in this program.”

Suffolk resident Artie Lewis, 55, is retired from the Army and federal government.  “This will be a whole new career for me,” he said. “I will be able to come out of retirement and do something different.” Lewis said that he has learned a lot of new information in the class as well and that it is a “very worthwhile” course.

“Without the support of this team and Mr. G,” he said looking around at his classmates, “I wouldn’t be as successful.”

Alina Bennett, 28, of Newport News said the program is worth the drive. Her husband presently works at Huntington Ingalls and she currently is a teacher. “I want to get enough base knowledge to start the job and continue in a new career,” she said.

While Newport News resident Felicia Ross, 25, graduated with a business administration degree while she was in Arkansas, she still wants to provide more for her 2-year-old. “I have support,” she said, “but I want to earn more and have better benefits for me and my son.”

Construction laborer Ryan Marsh, 23, of Newport News actually moved to the area from Dover, Del., after hearing on a radio show about the importance of trades and how Virginia’s shipyards need workers. He wanted to learn something new so he could make enough money to get out on his own. Marsh said, “I have learned a lot about precise measuring and different tools that I wasn’t familiar with in my construction work.”

Elvin Hughes, 31, also of Newport News has been applying to Huntington Ingalls for 13 years. He had been working for a home restoration company, but was very concerned of the effects on his health since they frequently dealt with fire and mold remediation. He also has 11-year-old twin boys, Taariq and Elijah Hughes, who live in Atlanta, Ga. 

“I like this work and I like my teacher, Mr. G.” he said. “I want to continue my education for my trade.”

Several of the students, including Hughes, plan to apply to The Apprentice School, which was founded at Newport News Shipbuilding in 1919 and trains in many related disciplines. There, students are able to earn college credit, a paycheck and benefits while learning a trade. 

A demonstration of drilling and tapping by Gibson illustrated just how detailed new job duties will be. The students spent the rest of the afternoon in the lab, recalling all of the meticulous steps performed by their instructor prior to noon. Making a hole in a plate is not as easy or quick as it would seem to a layman.

Undaunted, the students prepared for the task at hand, constantly stepping away from their work stations to help each other, as they were all working toward the same goal—to drill and tap a leveled hole for a 5/8-inch bolt—and to secure a better future for themselves and their families while doing so. 

For more information about the outside machinist program at Camp, visit pdc.edu/workforce-development/.  

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