By Caroleine James
Wrangell Sentinel 

Trident program trains new generation of tradespeople

 

November 8, 2023 | View PDF



Trident Seafoods’ skilled-trades program was founded to address “the graying of the trades” — the shoreside counterpart to “the graying of the fleet.” The four-year course helps young people start careers in welding, electrical work, carpentry and more, while addressing the company’s need for new workers.

Students spend two years in training alongside a cohort of 10 students, followed by a two-year commitment to employment at Trident.

Wrangell High School alumnus Jacen Hay learned about the program during a presentation to his class. He had always planned to go into the trades after his 2023 graduation, and Trident’s program seemed like the ideal way to make it happen.

“It’s a great opportunity,” he said. “Your school is getting paid for and you’re getting paid to go to school. When I first heard about it, it didn’t seem real. It kind of seemed like a scam.”

He’s currently living at the Alaska Vocational Technical Center in Seward, learning everything from framing to drywalling to woodworking to electrical, and will transfer to a Trident plant in Akutan in late November.

As he progresses through the program, he’ll pick a specialty — probably refrigeration or welding.

Jacob Betts, Trident’s director of shoreside facilities engineering for Alaska, began laying the groundwork for the program around three years ago to address the skill gap he saw between the experienced older workers nearing retirement and youth seeking to enter the industry.

Working as an engineer at Trident’s Cordova cannery in 2013, he “found that it was really hard to find the highly skilled, qualified people that I needed, particularly refrigeration operators and electricians,” Betts said. “Hiring this out, especially in remote locations in Alaska, is expensive. All the plants in Alaska were under that same crunch. … I knew that to move forward into the future, we need to solve that issue and I saw this school as kind of the way to do it.”

There will be 1.5 million new skilled-trades jobs in the U.S. by 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but young adults’ application rates for these jobs dropped 49% from 2020 to 2022, according to data from recruiting platform Handshake.

A survey by manufacturing company Stanley Black & Decker found that less than half of respondents ages 14 to 19 had ever considered a career in the trades and only 16% were likely to consider one.

Trident aims to recruit Alaskan students to work at its Alaska plants. “We are … reaching out to the smaller communities, where I know there have been less opportunities for a lot of students,” said Betts. Rural areas have “wonderful, motivated, educated students who have been looking for this opportunity.”

Besides Hay, the current cohort has two students recruited from high schools in Kodiak and Metlakatla, plus four students from plants in Akutan, Cordova and Naknek.

During the program’s first year, students shadow engineers and technicians to receive “a broad spectrum of all the skills that are involved in the seafood processing industry,” said Betts, including welding, refrigeration, diesel mechanics, electrical and construction. In their second year, they pick specialties and in their third and fourth years, they are assigned to plant locations around the state depending on the company’s needs.

Interested students can contact Betts at jbetts@tridentseafoods.com or visit a plant in-person for more information.

 

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