MARINETTE, Wis. — Kelsey Johannsen started working at Fincantieri Marinette Marine last September as an electrician.

What You Need To Know

  • Northeast Wisconsin Technical College helps train shipbuilders in northeast Wisconsin

  • The North Coast Marine Manufacturing Training Center opened in 2012

  • More than 15,000 new hires and existing workers have been trained at the facility

She’s now building a U.S. Navy Littoral Combat Ship and learning skills of the trade in a classroom at the same time.

She recently demonstrated some of the skills she’s learned at the North Coast Marine Manufacturing Training Center.

“I turned on the emergency red light and the white light for the guys,” Johannsen said. “That way, when the power goes out, they have the lights that come on automatically and the red lights that come on when they need red lights.”

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College operates the training center in Marinette. It has a similar operation in Sturgeon Bay, where Fincantieri has another shipyard.

“It’s a lot thrown at you very quickly,” Johannsen said about starting a career helping build ships. “I came into the program not knowing anything about electrical. I came in from trees and that kind stuff, so it was all very new to me. I feel I’m now more comfortable and able to go in there and work and do what they ask me to do.”

(Spectrum News 1/Nathan Phelps)

The program works with both new hires and with existing workers learning new skills.

“Some of our folks don’t have much industrial experience,” said Heather Peterson, the maritime workforce solutions partner with NWTC. “Some of them have worked in the shipyard for 20 years. They left and they came back. They still have to go through our program.”

Jim Draeger, dean of NWTC Corporate Training & Economic Development, said the center has provided training to more than 15,000 workers in the past 12 years.

“The maritime industry in northeastern Wisconsin has been a staple of this community for generations. To be able to be a part of that in being able to train the future workforce and make sure that industry stays here in northeastern Wisconsin, you won’t find anything else like it.”

Training ranges from blueprint reading to welding, pipe fitting and electrical. It also extends into other areas includes skills like leadership, project management and Microsoft Excel.

Kevin Lacourse moved from plover to Marinette to help build ships. He’s just a few weeks into his training.

“I think the most important thing is to get people into their comfort zone. It can be intimidating if you walk in and you’re new,” Lacourse said. “The biggest thing is finding your feet and getting comfortable learning the equipment and knowing what you’re working with.”

He sees this kind of training as vital to the area’s economy.

“It’s critical,” he said. “This is probably the number one employer in this area.”

(Spectrum News 1/Nathan Phelps)

Johannsen said she and others spend hours learning and practicing the skills they need for the job.

“To make sure you have the foundation down and that you have everything you need down pat,” she said. “That way when I get on the ship it’s not like, ‘Oh man, what am I doing here?’ It’s more comfortable. It’s like a repetition.”

(Spectrum News 1/Nathan Phelps)