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PRCC boot camp prepares fitters for 'real world' employment opportunities

Pearl River Community College (PRCC) has a legacy of preparing students to enter the workforce as evidenced by the success with their programs and curriculum that propel students into the workforce as utility lineman, instrumentation technicians, air conditioning and refrigeration technicians, and other skilled labor fields.

PRCC now offers a boot camp for fitters which can quickly prepare students to enter the workforce in numerous industries including shipbuilding. The boot camp runs for 8 weeks Monday through Thursday from 7:00am until 4:30pm according to Dr. Scott Alsobrooks, PRCC Vice President for Workforce and Economic Development.

PRCC hosted State Senator Angela Hill, State Representative Stacey Wilkes, State Representative John Corley, and Mississippi Community College Board Member John Pigott on July 30th to provide an inside look at the program at the Poplarville campus.

Alsobrooks pointed out the near real-life work environment created in the boot camp.

“Not only do the students use the same work tables, equipment, but also experience first-hand the heat from the machines to emulate the real work environment. They get a real life feel for what it’s like to work in a shipyard with heat from the welders, torches, the heavy gear and clothing they have to wear. Not only do they gain the training and skills, they find out real quick if they want to work in this type of environment. It gives them a taste of reality,” Alsobrooks explained.

PRCC Welding Instructor Ryland Shaw says the current program for fitters takes to be successful.

“Normal, everyday skills are important. Those with good hand-eye coordination and dexterity do extremely well in the boot camp. Also, those that have basic skills like how to use tape measures, a framing square, and other common things like driving a nail, have a slight advantage when they are taking the class, but even someone without those background skills came be successful,” Shaw shared.

Alsobrooks stated that when a student passes this boot camp or graduates the welding program, they receive the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) certification. NCCER is a not-for-profit education foundation that was founded in 1996 as a collaboration of more than 125 construction CEOs, association leaders, and academic professionals who strongly believed in the importance of safety, productivity, and education within the construction and maintenance industry. These professionals came together with the goal of developing a curriculum of standardized training and credentials.

The NCCER’s mission is to build a sustainable workforce of safe and productive craft professionals. Their vision is to position themselves as an entity universally recognized by both private industries and public government as setting the standard for the training, assessment, certification, and career development of construction and maintenance craftsmen.

(L-R) Dr. Alsobrooks and Dr. Ed Pinero (PRCC) explaining the program to John Pigott, Angela Hill, Stacey Wilkes, and John Corley

The fitters boot camp, mainly subsidized by the Mississippi Workforce Enhancement Training Fund, ends up costing a student at most $250.00. The program requires a drug screening which is also what can be expected on a regular basis in the work place, such as Ingalls.

Garry Mercer, Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding Apprentice School Manager, was on hand at PRCC’s Poplarville campus on Monday, July 30, to give a test for potential fitters. Students who passed the test will be offered a job at Ingalls which lead include enrollment in a paid apprentice program that begins pay at around $17.00 per hour.

Mercer explained in detail that it’s more than just the training and being paid once they get to Ingalls.

“With today’s young people, if we don’t engage them very quickly on the job and make them feel like they are important, they’re gone,” Mercer said.

“When I started in shipbuilding in the 90s at Ingalls, you were given a grinder and you did that for months and no one really cared how you were doing and even if you were happy. Now, we have to build skills in these folks so they can start doing jobs very quickly and start feeling productive or else they are not going to stay. That’s why programs like this at Pearl River are so important because it builds those fundamental skills so a foreman can say ‘hey, can you go to this or that, and the worker can say I know how to do that and start being engaged very quickly.”

Garry Mercer (second from left) explains some of items used by students.

Students who complete the program at PRCC are not bound to work only at Ingalls, but can opt to take their certification and go to work offshore in oil and gas related fields, onshore fabrication facilities, and other companies who are in need of people with skills attained during the boot camp training at PRCC.

Alsobrooks noted that PRCC is a partner with four other community colleges (Jones Jr College, Copiah-Lincoln Community, Southwest Mississippi Community College, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community) in the South Mississippi Alliance Workforce Solution (SMAWS) program. Combined, these colleges encompass 29 counties in south Mississippi and serve over 47,800 individuals in workforce training each year.


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