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Registered apprenticeship program starts: Vigor launches initiative with 13 welding apprentices
Hayden Wells, far left, Cole Merfeld, second from left, and their fellow welding apprentices sign their apprenticeship agreements Tuesday at the Ketchikan Shipyard. Photo by Hall Anderson

Daily News Staff Writer

Alaska has long relied on other states to build its ships. But that’s beginning to change.

Shipbuilding apprentices employed by Vigor Alaska gave their signatures in a ceremony Tuesday, marking the official start of the first ever Registered Apprenticeship program at the Ketchikan Shipyard.

The two-year program pairs the 13 welding apprentices with established mentors. Apprentices will take classes and participate in the shipyard’s various building and repair projects.

Katelynn Beck, a 20-year-old welder who has worked in the shipyard for a year, said that she’s looking forward to the apprenticeship.

“We have a very young workforce as far as shipyards go,” Beck said. “It’s a great opportunity to learn as much as I can.”

Vigor, the shipyard’s operator, created the apprenticeship with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. It’s part of an effort to supply Alaska’s growing shipbuilding industry with a strong local workforce.

While speaking at the event, DWLD Deputy Commissioner Greg Cashen emphasized the economic importance of local shipbuilding with local workers.

“Our marine ferries are an essential part of Alaska’s transportation infrastructure and the economy of coastal communities such as Ketchikan,” Cashen said. “As the state gradually upgrades its fleet of ferries we should make every effort to insure these ships are built in Alaska shipyards with Alaskan workers.”

Fittingly, the event took place in one of the shipyard’s assembly halls, where Vigor is nearing completion on one of two new Alaska Class ferries, the Tazlina. It will be the first Alaska state ferry to be constructed in Alaska.

 “Knowing that this is going to be transporting families in Alaska is pretty exciting,” said Beck, who has worked on the ship. “I’m excited to represent Alaska.”

The event began with a tour of the 280-foot Tazlina, led by Doug Ward, Vigor Alaska’s director of shipyard development. Ward said that many of their shipbuilding practices are inspired by those of Northern Europe. He attributes Europe’s shipbuilding success in part to a focus on technical education, including apprenticeships.

Both Vigor and the Department of Labor hope that apprenticeships will benefit Alaska’s economies. Ed Flanagan, the DLWD’s Division of Employment and Training Director, congratulated the apprentices and drove the point home.

“You’re embarked on a great career in a great industry,” Flanagan said. “What you’re doing is not only good for Vigor and for your own families, but it’s great for the state of Alaska.”