Ty Swenson
Washington Governor Jay Inslee meets with Harbor Island Training Center students and staff on Oct. 11. The facility is a partnership between Vigor Industrial and West Seattle's South Seattle Community College to train welding and shipbuilding techniques. Please see below the story for a group photo.

Governor Inslee visits with future shipbuilders at Harbor Island Training Center

At the northern reach of Harbor Island on Oct. 11, Washington Governor Jay Inslee toured the Harbor Island Training Center to learn more about the collaborative program launched this summer by Vigor Industrial and South Seattle Community College to train the state’s next generation of shipbuilders.

Inslee spent the vast majority of his visit speaking directly with students and the program’s lead welding director, Ken Johnson, as they worked their way through the 8,000 square foot facility plush with welding booths, machining equipment, a computer lab and classroom.

The imperative skill behind building a ship is welding, and that is the focus of the six-month program with 19 students in its inaugural class. Of those students working towards a certificate after a second quarter starting this winter, roughly half are currently receiving unemployment or on food benefits, according to Vigor statistics.

“It’s important to have a middle class in this state and these are middle class jobs,” Inslee said before detailing his own family’s longtime maritime connections including his father who built barges, a great uncle who worked on tugboats, and a brother and sons who have worked in the fishing industry.

“The maritime industry in our state has great growth potential because of our proximity to Asia and our export-oriented economy and our great sustainable fishery,” he added. “Jobs are our number one job in the state. We want to train people to go into these industries and we want to maintain these industries to keep those jobs available. This is a really high priority for the State of Washington and for my administration.”

“This is the closest thing you can actually get to be a production welder,” said welding instructor Ken Johnson, who has been teaching the craft for a quarter century. “We are a shipyard and a community college and with that chemistry that is something the industry needs to bring welders into the industry.”

Johnson said while some of graduates might find work with Vigor, others will have viable training for several industrial fields beyond maritime. His hope is that many of his students will find jobs building Washington’s next fleet of ferries.

SSCC President Gary Oertli said Vigor and his school, based in West Seattle on 16th Ave. S.W., started brainstorming the training center idea in January of this year. Six months later, in June, they were cutting the ribbon to make it official in what he called an “amazing turnaround.”

“It’s tremendous, we had 20 students start and we have 19 in the program,” Oertli said of the inaugural run thus far. “They will probably start at salaries well over $50,000 and not only here at Vigor, but some will go into apprenticeships. We have an incredible instructor and the other great thing, they are right here so they are connected with industry so they are learning exactly what they need to know to be successful in the workplace.”

Oertli said the Harbor Island Training Center was funded mostly by a 50/50 partnership between Vigor and state funds appropriated by the legislature, with additional funding from King County, City of Seattle, Port of Seattle, the Seattle Chamber of Commerce and the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County.

To learn more about the program, visit SSCC’s information page at http://www.southseattle.edu/harbor-island-training-center/.

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