One of Mississippi’s largest employers is now offering an academy to train CTE students from across coastal districts in shipbuilding.
The new maritime academy, sponsored by the Gulf States Shipbuilding Consortium (GSSC), is one of only two programs on the Gulf Coast that teaches CTE students about the shipbuilding trade. The initial idea for the pilot program arose from a brainstorming session between Jeff Allman and Mark Scott of Ingalls Shipbuilding; Durand Payton, the director of Moss Point Career and Technical Center (CTC); and members of the GSSC.
“The program is needed for several reasons,” explained Allman, manager of workforce and training strategy for Ingalls in Pascagoula. “We want to educate high school students regarding the career paths that are available to them in the shipbuilding industry, provide a conduit for industry to have greater access and influence regarding opportunities that are available, and create a partnership between education and industry.”
The maritime academy at the shipyard continues the CTE tradition of giving students hands-on experience in a workplace. The students practice welding, pipefitting, painting, working with sheet metal, and several other trades on-site at the shipyard. To enter the academy, students must be a junior or senior and have completed a two-year program at their CTE center.
Around 30 high school students enrolled in the program in its pilot year, hailing from three school districts: Moss Point CTC, Pascagoula-Gautier CTC, and Jackson County CTC. The curriculum for the pilot program heavily relies on the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) curriculum. NCCER, a nonprofit organization, develops and publishes standardized construction and maintenance curriculum, safety programs, management education, industry image materials, and craft skills assessment.
The curriculum includes assignments and hands-on work that cover an introduction to maritime, marine pipefitting, structural fitting, marine electrical, machining, and shipyard safety. Students are grouped with peers from their school for many projects, but also gain the benefit of interacting with students from other campuses.
“One of the greatest parts of this group has been that we have no competition between districts. We are all working together with Ingalls to create the best program possible for all of our students,” said Jerry Morgan, the director of Jackson County CTC.
Students spend almost two hours each day at the academy and rotate to different modules of the 10 craft skills. Students are taught the correct form for operating machinery or how to check that a job is well done.
Victoria Hunt, the Ingalls training representative for the academy, believes that the program gives students an opportunity to determine where their interests lie and to begin developing skills: “Before rotating to a new lesson, the students in painting will know how to employers, thereby giving the student a competitive advantage when seeking employment.”
Students at the academy are expected to build on skills they previously learned at their CTE centers. Additionally, many of the students take on responsibilities that mimic those that they will have in the workplace, such as being in charge of their own transportation and arriving on time.
“Many of our students enjoy being in an adult environment, and it’s teaching them valuable life lessons,” Morgan said. “We also hope this program is teaching the students, many of whom have family members who have worked at Ingalls, to look to the shipyard for their future instead of running away from career opportunities.”
Payton echoed this sentiment, saying that Moss Point’s students have benefited from being exposed to the industry and having the opportunity to obtain college credit.
“When we looked at the curriculum and format for this first year we wanted it to be rigorous and hold the students responsible, but we also have the understanding that this is a 17-year-old and not someone who has held a full-time job before,” said Payton. “I’m very pleased with how our group has done at Ingalls and with students from other districts. We have a great group of kids.”
During their time in the academy, students are exposed to more than just the curriculum. They also visit different departments within Ingalls, like nursing, design, or engineering. These visits allow the students to see the diverse fields contained within a large company like Ingalls.
“We want to have the best people working at our company,” noted Scott. “There’s a stereotype that shipbuilding isn’t for high performers, but that simply isn’t true. We want to break the stereotype.”
The program’s pilot year has been successful for Ingalls, school districts, and students, and interest is growing already for next year, when the academy will be open to eight schools across five districts, including one in Mobile, AL.
Pascagoula-Gautier, which sent nine students to the academy last year, saw almost 30 students at their first interest meeting for the current year. Derek Reed, a Pascagoula-Gautier counselor, said that he believes this increased interest has been driven by the pilot-year students sharing their experiences with other students.
When recruiting future participants, the academy’s current students can point to their own bright futures.
“A number of this year’s participants will be offered jobs with us when they graduate, and we will organize a job fair with the Gulf States Shipbuilding Consortium for all the students to meet with potential employers,” explained Scott.