WESTERLY — The Westerly Education Center has received a $750,000 Office of Naval Research grant to add capacity and equipment. The office coordinates and promotes science and technology programs for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.
The center, which functions as a self-supporting division of the Rhode Island Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner, said the three-year grant was awarded last month. It is a major provider of job training for General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyards in Groton and North Kingstown.
Electric Boat’s total workforce in Rhode Island and Connecticut is expected to grow to more than 18,000 by 2030 as the company takes on production work for the Navy's Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, and continued contracts for Virginia-class attack submarines,
Amy Grzybowski, executive director of the education center, said it must build capacity to meet EB's accelerating demand for skilled workers.
“With added capacity, we can improve recruitment of diverse U.S. citizens, seek additional sources of funding for capacity building, and outreach to and enroll direct-to-career high school students and adult students looking to 'upskill' or change their careers,” she said. “We are thankful to the Office of Naval Research for awarding us this grant, which will allow us to serve more citizens looking for careers in STEM fields, especially veterans and employers supporting the defense industry.”
Brenda Dann-Messier, Rhode Island commissioner of higher education, said that in the two years since its inception, the Westerly Education Center has had a meaningful impact on workforce development in the region.
“Electric Boat reports that the 885 students trained at Westerly Education Center in the past two years are consistently performing well on the job and enter the workforce extraordinarily prepared,” she said in a news release.
The grant will make it possible for the center to expand course enrollment with more hands-on capability and increase the participation of students in Westerly High School’s Pathways in Technology Early College, known as P-TECH, at Westerly Education Center, Dann-Messier said. The P-TECH pre-engineering and advanced manufacturing students are considered ideal candidates for Electric Boat’s submarine-building jobs, according to the release.
Grzybowski said: “The ability to build our capacity hinges on our proficiency to identify, recruit, enroll, graduate, and assist with the employment of candidates unaware of our education system serving Electric Boat and other major employers. The ability to connect candidates to services will enable us to meet our performance goals of increasing the number of students who are trained for high-demand, high-wage jobs, while also eliminating equity gaps and increasing the number of Rhode Islanders with postsecondary degrees and credentials.”
Grant monies have been earmarked for staff positions as well as equipment purchases in the teaching labs, including equipment suitable for P-TECH's classes in Precision Measurement and Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerance at Westerly High School. The center’s new Process Technologists of the Future pathway, which increases the talent pool and qualifications of workforce practitioners, will also benefit from diversified outreach and laboratory equipment enhancements, the officials said.