By Tom Peters

Irving Shipbuilding’s Centre of Excellence (CEC), in partnership with Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC), private industry and other organizations, is bringing a new, diverse group of workers into its shipbuilding hall. In June of this year, 15 women, welders or metal fabricators, graduated from Nova Scotia Community College and were hired by Irving Shipbuilding. A second group of 20 women has completed the 14-week Women Unlimited Partnership program, in preparation for the two-year diploma trades program which begins in September.

The Women Unlimited Partnership supports the women in the 14-week career exploration and academic readiness program so they can continue into welding or metal fabrication trades, said Odette Merchant, Project Manager, NSCC and the college’s lead with CEC.

The first class of 15 women diploma graduates “have been hired by Irving Shipbuilding. They have started work at the shipyard as welders or metal fabricators, depending on their trades program and that is a significant connection that really required partnership – Irving, ourselves (NSCC), Women Unlimited as a community organization and Unifor,” said Merchant. “The role of the union has been significant, plus we had some other industry partners. The Canadian Welding Association, for example, provided some financial support for students and NSCC, through our foundation, provided bursaries,” she said.

Kelly Trout, who completed the Women Unlimited Partnership program and moves into the two-year diploma program at NSCC this fall, said, “The amount of support we, as women, are receiving is completely unrivaled by any other programs I have come across. We have gained access to transferable skills that we may not have been able to acquire otherwise.”

She said she is now much more employable and “grateful for the bursaries from the Irving Shipbuilding Centre for Excellence, as well as the Canadian Welding Association Foundation which have been working in close partnership with Women Unlimited. I am so grateful to have been a part of this program and so excited to take the next step in my shipbuilding career.”

In 2011, Irving Shipbuilding was selected by the federal government through its 2010 National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy to work closely with Canada’s Navy on the next class of Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) and Arctic/Offshore Patrol Vessels (AOPV). The $25 billlion, 30-year shipbuilding program is already providing significant economic and employment opportunities across Canada. The Centre of Excellence is one of many initiatives Irving Shipbuilding is undertaking to build a sustainable, vibrant marine industry in Canada. Established by Irving and working with NSCC, the Centre of Excellence, which is not a physical structure, is developing opportunities for Nova Scotians interested in careers in shipbuilding.

The Centre is focused on building workforce diversity by supporting communities that are under-represented in Irving Shipbuilding’s workforce and the sector itself. In addition to the women’s programs, NSCC and Irving are growing career opportunities for First Nations, African Canadians and persons with disabilities.

“Irving Shipbuilding is proud to support Nova Scotian students from diverse backgrounds to pursue careers in the marine industry,” said ISI President Kevin McCoy. “A long-lasting and vibrant Canadian marine industry has talented professionals at the heart of it. These students have a wonderful opportunity to pursue meaningful careers in these professions, thanks to the work of the Centre of Excellence,” he said.

Further to the work done with the women planning shipbuilding careers, NSCC, the Centre and a collaboration of industry, government and indigenous partners has launched of an education and apprenticeship program to create job opportunities for up to 20 indigenous students in metal fabrication and an opportunity to build a career in shipbuilding at Irving Shipbuilding.

The two-year pilot program, called Pathways to Shipbuilding for Indigenous Students, integrates education, industry and community partnerships to develop a model that successfully creates pathways for indigenous Canadians to enter the shipbuilding industry. The Mi’kmaq Native Friendship Centre in Halifax is the community partner for the program and will provide support services to the students in Halifax.

A 14-week customized introductory program will be followed by the two-year metal fabrication program at NSCC’s Akerley Campus. Successful graduates who meet employment eligibility criteria will be employed by Irving Shipbuilding at the end of the two-year diploma program as positions become available in 2018 and beyond.