PROVIDENCE — A successful partnership between the Westerly Education Center and General Dynamics Electric Boat has resulted in an award from the New England Board of Higher Education.
The board presented its Excellence Award in a ceremony Wednesday at the Statehouse to Westerly Education Center Executive Director Amy Grzybowski and Maura Dunn, Electric Boat’s vice president of human resources and administration.
The award honors the best in higher education efforts throughout New England.
Grzybowski credited state Rep. Samuel A. Azzinaro, D-Westerly, and Charles “Chuck” Royce, the longtime mutual fund manager who was the driving force behind the renovation of the Ocean House, with sparking the idea for the program.
“Together, they made the dream of improving workforce training and education for Rhode Islanders a reality,” Grzybowski said. The center serves as a “talent pipeline” of skilled labor, meeting Electric Boat’s need for hundreds of new workers to help fulfill ongoing contracts for Virginia-class attack submarines and for the Navy’s replacement class of ballistic missile subs.
Maritime pipefitting, sheet metal and electrical classes run in two shifts, five days per week. More than 780 students have completed the training since last January, Grzybowski said.
“CCRI supports our center by providing highly skilled instructors and teaching assistants,” she said. “Most are former EB employees who’ve worked at EB for decades.”
A University of Rhode Island program at the center has trained 330 employees at both the Groton and Quonset Point shipyards in management over the past year, she said.
Dunn called the program a model for other employers and states.
“We employ people in every single state. This is the program our chairman references when we talk about workforce development,” she said.
Azzinaro recalled how a chance encounter between himself and Royce in 2014 at the Ocean House, where Azzinaro and his wife were celebrating their 50th anniversary, got the project rolling. As the two men chatted, Royce told Azzinaro of his vision for a community college campus in downtown Westerly.
Soon after, Azzinaro set up meetings with former CCRI President Ray DiPasquale, Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, Royce, Royce Family Fund Executive Director Dan King and Thomas J. Liguori Jr., the lawyer who represents the fund.
“You need a village to make things like this happen,” Azzinaro said. “I’m so proud of the education center.”
State Sen. Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly, said there’s interest from other industries and companies in joining or replicating the Westerly model.
“It’s nationally recognized. It works. It’s matching people up to trades, training them and giving them jobs,” he said. “We’re looking at it going beyond EB to other types of industries and trades, whether it be medical, financial services, a number of other professions.”
Money in the state budget would expand the program into the northern part of the state, Algiere said.