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A Modern Day Rosie the Riveter

Filed in Apprenticeship, DOL, Secretary Perez By on May 28, 2015
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Labor Secretary Perez (Center) with Sen. Collins (Right) and Jen (Left)

Rosie the Riveter: she was one of the most enduring, iconic images of the World War II era. She symbolized the importance of women in the workforce contributing to our nation’s success – not just advancing the war effort, but helping create economic growth and prosperity for all. Thanks to an invite from Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, I had a chance to meet a 21st century Rosie during a visit to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard yesterday.

Portsmouth, one of only four remaining naval shipyards in the nation, is responsible for building our nation’s submarine fleet. The work done there is vital to our national security. The precision and skill required to build a nuclear-powered submarine cannot be overstated. That’s why Portsmouth is also a leader in apprenticeship; they know that in order to have the best workers performing highly-sensitive tasks, they need to invest in high-quality training.

At the shipyard, I met a bright young woman named Jen. After three years of studying journalism in college, she decided she wanted to do more than sit behind a computer every day. So she shifted course and followed in her grandparents’ footsteps to work in the shipyard. She’s in her third year of a four-year apprenticeship program learning to be a highly skilled welder. Given the depths these submarines are required to descend, (classified information, of course!), strong welds − like rivets in generations past − are crucial to the vessel’s structural integrity.

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As an apprentice, Jen earns a competitive salary while learning the art and science of welding. She also enjoys generous leave, health care and retirement benefits. And to top it off, her training will also allow her to earn credits toward a college degree in her field.

These investments are also paying a dividend for Portsmouth – helping to position the local industry for success in the years to come. A highly trained workforce gives the region a competitive advantage when seeking future shipbuilding contracts.

The Portsmouth apprenticeship program is a win-win for all involved. And to help more workers and more employers benefit from the learn-while-you-earn training model, we’re investing $100 million in new grants to expand apprenticeships across the country. From coast to coast, in industries across the board, we want to lift up apprenticeship as a battle-tested workforce development strategy that will help more businesses grow and help more workers like Jen punch their ticket to the middle class.

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