Shipbuilding academy will be built in Pascagoula

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

MOBILE, AL (WLOX) - A workforce development initiative should enhance the shipyards in Jackson County. Governor Barbour announced on Friday the state is about to break ground on a new Mississippi Shipbuilding and Metal Trades Academy. The $20 million investment will build metal trades classroom space in Pascagoula.

The academy's goal is to teach future shipyard workers how to become more productive and more competitive.

The governor knows it's imperative to get younger Mississippians interested in shipbuilding jobs. Otherwise, shipyards will struggle to fill future orders.

Before the Navy christens a war ship, and before a yachtsman cracks open a bottle of champagne over his new pleasure craft, shipbuilders pour tons of steel and sweat into their cruising creations.

Jeff Allman is a second generation shipbuilder at Northrop Grumman's Pascagoula shipyard.

"To me, there's nothing like it," he said.

Allman's currently the company's director of training. He joined dozens of other shipbuilding executives at a conference in Mobile, where the emphasis was on the high tech component of ship construction.

Tracey Binion represented Signal International at the Gulf States Shipbuilders Consortium conference.

"Working with your hands is not necessarily the fashionable thing to do. But you can make a great living," the human resources director explained. "It's very safe. And I think we offer a lot of great benefits."

But Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour says shipyards need more than benefits to remain competitive.

"If the workforce can't deploy technology, they can't make your company more productive," he told conference delegates. "The thing that's most important for our workers is to have the skills where they can deploy the technology to make the companies successful, more productive and competitive."

Barbour used his talk at the Gulf States Shipbuilders Consortium conference to announce plans for a state sponsored shipbuilding academy in Pascagoula.

"We've got to increase the skills of our workers. And we've got to get younger people interested in these jobs," the governor said.

The $20 million being used to open the academy is Katrina recovery money that Governor Barbour says is earmarked for economic development.

"This will be a great center focused on the metal trades," he said after the speech. "We do not have enough workers in Mississippi who've got metal trades skills. And many of the workers are older. So we're trying to refill that pipeline, because this is where you'll get the jobs of the future."

Many of the shipbuilders at the conference often compete for the same workers. Yet in 2006, they created a consortium, to share ideas about how to keep people interested in shipyard jobs.

"All of us are working together on the same problems," said Allman. "But we're also collaborating to show everyone that the jobs that we have and the jobs that we offer, yes they're manufacturing. But they're high technology manufacturing jobs."

Without a new generation of workers getting excited about shipbuilding, Allman says, "We will not be building ships if we do not have people coming to take these jobs."

Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College will help teach classes at the Shipbuilders and Metal Trades Academy.