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Photo by: Rodney Patrick

AIDT Maritime Training Center readies workers for jobs in Alabama shipyards

MOBILE, Alabama – An eight-week welding course at the AIDT Maritime Training Center gave Rodney Patrick a future he didn’t expect – a career in shipbuilding.

Around three years ago, the Mobile County man was working as an investigator for a law firm when the economic downturn put him on the job-search trail. A friend suggested the AIDT Maritime Training Center program and mentioned opportunities at the Austal USA shipyard. He dismissed the idea at first.

“I had never been in a shipyard before, and I didn’t know a thing about shipbuilding,” he said. “I didn’t even know what a welding machine looked like.”

When nothing else emerged, Patrick decided to give AIDT a try. He enrolled in a free welding course at the Maritime Training Center, a $12 million facility established in 2007 by the State of Alabama to provide workers with the skills and qualifications needed for an expanding shipbuilding industry. Austal and other maritime companies in the Mobile area have been on a hiring binge and continue to add hundreds of jobs today.

Along with AIDT’s Robotics Technology Park near Decatur, which prepares workers for careers in advanced manufacturing settings, the AIDT Maritime Training Center was meant to transform the state’s workforce development efforts into a streamlined job-training and recruitment tool.

Patrick said the AIDT Maritime Training Center course taught him every aspect of welding, breaking down the fundamental techniques he would need on the job, while providing constructive feedback that allowed him to improve.

Patrick applied at Austal and got a job as a Class B welder. He admits to a case of jitters when he showed up for his first shift in the shipyard where Austal manufactures aluminum ships for the U.S. Navy.

“I was shaking like a leaf because I didn’t know what to expect,” he recalled.

As it turned out, the hardest adjustments he had to make at Austal were getting used to wearing steel-toed boots and a helmet. The welding came naturally, thanks to training that left him feeling confident.

“They prepared us so well that the transition was so smooth that going from the classroom setting to working on the deckplate was easy,” he said.

Since joining Austal nearly three years ago, Patrick has been promoted twice – the first time to recruiter, which involved publicly sharing his experiences with the AIDT Maritime Training Center, and most recently to a human resources coordinator/employee relations position.

As a recruiter, Patrick regularly shared his story about AIDT training at city council meetings, job fairs and other events. He once got the chance to tell it to Gov. Robert Bentley.

“AIDT is so amazing. One employee told me, ‘That program is a dream-maker.’ It has helped so many families,” Patrick said.  “I am just one of the success stories. There are so many others, and these individuals went through the same AIDT program I did.”

Since it opened, the AIDT Maritime Training Center has provided training for more than 2,400 workers, primarily in welding and shipfitting, according to AIDT. The average trainee is between 25 and 40 years old, and most are unemployed or underemployed.

The AIDT Maritime Training Center provides day and night classes in steel and aluminum welding techniques, shipfitting and other shipbuilding skills. Trainees also receive OSHA 10-year maritime training and can receive NCCER certification.

The exterior of the 60,000-square-foot facility is designed to look like a freighter loaded with shipping containers from different countries, while the interior is open and resembles a shipyard’s assembly bay. The center is split into two, with programs for Austal operating in one half and other AIDT programs in the rest. The building also has smaller workspaces, classrooms and computer labs.

Besides Austal, graduates have found jobs at BAE Systems, Signal International, C&G Boatworks, Horizon Shipbuilding, SWDC and other companies.

“AIDT gave me the opportunity, and I took that opportunity,” Patrick said. “Austal is it for me, and I plan to ride it to the top.”

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