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RIMTA pre-apprenticeship program launches new careers

Students listen to lessons in engine maintenance and winterization. CREDIT: Courtesy of RIMTA

Students listen to lessons in engine maintenance and winterization. CREDIT: Courtesy of RIMTA

Cynthia Goss, Rhode Island Marine Trades Association
August 13, 2013
Filed under Features, Top Stories

On a July morning at The Hinckley Company in Portsmouth (R.I.), students in the Rhode Island Marine Trades Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program are huddled into the cockpit of a 24-foot Formula powerboat while Kurt Forsman of the Derema Group walks them through the process of winterizing the boat’s 305-horsepower inboard. Students are so absorbed that at times it is so quiet you can hear a pin drop inside Hinckley’s Building #5—except when student questions start to fly, which is often. “Couldn’t you do it this way?” “What would happen if you did that step first?” Some students are two steps ahead of Forsman as he demonstrates, and that is what Forsman likes most about this group of students: they are eager to learn.

This new marine trades pre-apprenticeship program, which requires a full-time commitment from its students, launched in early July and will conclude in mid-August. The program is made possible through a Governor’s Workforce Board RI grant for $142,788—part of $1.97 million in Innovative Partnership grants distributed throughout the state. RIMTA spearheaded the development of the program and partnered with local marine companies, which are supplying facilities and expertise.

By graduation time the eight pre-apprentices in the program, ages 18 to 24, will be ready for employment. But first, they will complete the 205-hour course that gives them hands-on instruction in painting, varnishing, composites, customer service, hauling, rigging, fork and travel lift operation, shrink wrapping, winterizing & commissioning, boat handling, safety procedures, knot tying, tool handling, industry terminology, and even job-readiness skills.

That’s a lot of ground to cover, and a lot of questions to ask, but student Tyler Kane Roy Soares, age 18, is definitely up for the challenge: “I love learning,” he says. “I’m like a sponge.”

RIMTA-Pre-Apprenticeship-Program-2

Learning to shrink wrap is part of students’ training in the pre-apprenticeship program. CREDIT: Courtesy of RIMTA

Stephan Lawson is a bright, poised 23-year-old from Providence who never considered the boating business as a career. After spending four years in the Marine Corps, he was planning his post-military career and, in the process, met RIMTA Workforce Development Coordinator Jen Cornwell, who directs the pre-apprenticeship program. “The more I learned, the more interested I got in the program,” said Lawson.

Competition to gain admission to the program, which is free for students, was stiff. Cornwell received 50 applications; she selected 30 applicants to interview and narrowed that group to a smaller field of candidates to undergo testing for hands-on aptitude and math and reading skills. In interviews, Cornwell looked for qualities prized by marine companies that can’t be taught: a willingness to learn, a good attitude, and a genuine interest in making a career in the marine trades.

Cornwell has not been disappointed in her choices—and neither have managers and instructors from marine companies the students have encountered thus far. Already, a handful of companies are interested in hiring these pre-apprentices when they graduate in August.

Some pre-apprentices came to the program with a passion for boats. But for others, such as talented students Lawson and Soares, this program diverted their career focus from other fields—and the marine industry will be better for their new career choice. Even though Soares had just graduated from the Tiverton High School boat-building program this past June, he had no idea the boating business held so many diverse aspects to learn about. Now he is hooked, and when asked what he likes most about the program thus far, he can only answer with one word: “Everything!”

NOTE: The next session of the Rhode Island Marine Trades Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program will be run this winter, and applications will be available from RIMTA in late fall. For more information, visit www.rimta.org

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