Original Date: 07/21/2003
Revision Date: 01/18/2007
Best Practice : Multi-Trade Apprentice Program
Electric Boat Corporation, Quonset Point Facility’s Multi-Trade Program is a cooperative effort by the company and employees where both benefit. The company benefits by reductions in cost and schedule, and the employees gain valuable education and knowledge of several trades. Both gain from improved employee morale as well as the workers’ appreciation of the needs of other trades in the total shipbuilding process.
Electric Boat Corporation, Quonset Point Facility (EBQP) previously used a sequential process for constructing submarines in which individual trades were scheduled in a specific order. This resulted in lost time when the sequence was broken. With defense cuts reducing budgets and submarine production rates, this inefficient approach was no longer an option. EBQP responded with the Multi-Trade Apprentice Program to improve modular construction and foster a flexible workforce. Through this program, trade workers were offered extensive training in alternative trades including ship-fitting, welding, pipe fitting, mechanical, ventilation, electrical, and sound damping. The goal of the program was to train workers in three trades outside their specialty.
EBQP organized the Multi-Trade program under a single management unit (i.e., Modular Construction). This approach allowed skills to be used where they were needed most, and it reduced direct competition among trades for the available skilled workers. In addition to improving scheduling efficiency, the Multi-Trade approach provided an ideal tool for addressing fluctuations in manpower requirements. Although this program worked, it was difficult to keep skilled workers from permanent assignments in their core skills. To strengthen the multi-trade approach, EBQP recently revised the program to a more formal Multi-Trade Apprentice Program.
Currently, 76 apprentices are enrolled in the program, which includes a required course of study at the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI). In order to make the program as attractive as possible, an apprentice’s studies through CCRI result in an Associate’s Degree in Applied Technology Sciences with a concentration in Management, Engineering, or Production Control. Students also receive college credit for life experience for on-the-job work. Related training in EBQP trades consists of instruction in four trades that the apprentice selects from six possibilities: Outside Electrician, Outside Machinist, Pipefitting, Ship-fitting, Welding, and Sheetmetal. With each trade rotation, the apprentice receives 96 hours of classroom training, done two days per week, four hours each class, for 12 weeks (48 hours are paid time and 48 are unpaid).
An apprentice must perform a minimum of 1,000 on-the-job hours in each trade. In addition to those core hours, the apprentice must also work supplementary hours in other areas of the facility to get a well-rounded background. The supplementary hours include 160 hours in planning, 200 hours in Non-Destructive Testing (NDT), and 200 hours in another field (e.g., engineering, management). At the completion of the on-job-training hours in each trade, the apprentice is required to pass a practical demonstration of the skill. This demonstration, which is unique to each of the disciplines, ensures that the apprentice has received sufficient training in each of the trades.
The Multi-Trade Apprentice Program is structured to make best use of an apprentice’s time, and be completed in four to four-and-one-half years. CCRI studies are scheduled to start on a regular college semester basis in September and January. Each apprentice takes two classes each semester (a total of four per year), and all trade training is scheduled for the 12 weeks of non-school time in June through August.
Since implementing the Multi-Trade Apprentice Program, EBQP improved the efficiency of its modular construction process, increased the flexibility of its workforce, and gained significant cost savings. Using a multi-trade approach during modular construction of the Seawolf Class of attack submarines, EBQP reduced applied labor hours by 25% from the first ship to the third ship in this class, and similar results are being achieved on the Virginia Class. Other benefits include adding variety to the work, which significantly improves workers' morale, and a higher appreciation by multi-trade personnel for the other disciplines in the ship construction process.
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