HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - About 6,000 people attended a career fair for a chance at a job that is virtually guaranteed for life.
Those jobs are at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, the state's largest industrial employer. This year, there are openings for at least 100 apprentices and about 50 engineers.
The shipyard's mission is to repair and maintain U.S. Navy ships and submarines. It has a workforce of nearly 5,000.
"Once you're selected into the program, whether it's on the engineering side or in the trades, it becomes for most people, a job for life," said Robert Fogel, a production resources manager at the shipyard.
The thousands who want to join the shipyard workforce checked out displays and talked to other apprentices, workers and graduates at Honolulu Community College, which has been partnered with the shipyard in the four year work-study program. Individuals hired as apprentices are paid while they earn an associate's degree from HCC and also learn a trade on the job.
Average starting pay is $19 per hour. Apprenticeship program graduates can earn $28 or more per hour.
"I figured, they're paying me to get on the job training and they're paying me to go to school," said Chris Brooks, a graduate who was accepted into the program in 2005. "And at the end of two years I get an applied trades degree, and at the end of four years I get a Department of Labor journeyman mechanic."
While there is a limited number of openings, more people are still needed. "Every year, we're always encouraging more people to come down and look at all the booths and see each trade and the kind of work you could potentially be doing until you retire," Brooks said.
And the openings may increase because a large number of baby boomer-age workers are nearing retirement.
"A lot of what we're doing is hiring for planned attrition," Fogel said. "That's going to occur within the next two to three years, so we're bringing on a lot of engineers, a lot of mechanics, to go fill those voids."
The tough economy is also guaranteeing that the shipyard will have work to do for quite some time.
"The U.S. Navy would like to build more ships, but the budgets, the way they are, we can't afford it," said Fogel, "so we maintain the ships we have, so there's more work for us."