April 8, 2014
When Your Childhood Playground Is a Shipyard
Julie Blount’s childhood memories are not typical. She grew up in the picturesque “oyster community” of Warren, Rhode Island, where the Blount family compound had been established by her great grandfather, who ran an oyster shop. Julie’s uncle founded Blount Seafood, and her father – a brilliant mechanical engineer – began Blount Marine back in 1949. Julie grew up with oyster shells under foot, surrounded by the awesome process of shipbuilding. She was exposed to the might of machinery, and the precision of engineering, which, as she puts it, “changes your sensibilities.”
“There was always an extra vessel in the yard,” says Julie, “which meant our family always had a boat to use.” And so, the adventures began. Swordfishing trips to Martha’s Vineyard and the rugged island of Cuttyhunk eventually led to longer treks, during which the Blount crew explored the rocky coastlines of Maine and Canada.
You could say that the maritime industry was already in the DNA of the Blount children, but these mini-expeditions helped seal the deal. Today, Blount Boats is thriving – designing and building rugged and reliable steel and aluminum commercial service vessels. Marcia Blount, Julie’s sister, is at the helm, serving as President of the company. Her financial background – she’s both an MBA and a CPA – keeps Blount vital in a challenging business climate. Julie handles Human Resources, and served as the link to Blount’s alliance with New England Tech. Representing the third generation of this proud family is nephew Luther Blount III, a project engineer at Blount Boats.
Technology has put increasing demands on the marine industry. Steel construction vessels had been the foundation of Blount’s business, but lightweight aluminum designs have become a large part of the mix. The Warren River, where the Blount yard is located, had always presented depth restrictions, so this industry trend was clearly in Blount’s favor. But there was one big challenge.
“Welding has never been ‘one technique fits all’,” says Julie, “and that meant we had to restructure our entire welding operation, finding new welders and retraining the crew we already had.”
Blount’s search led to SAMI, New England Tech’s Shipbuilding/Marine Advanced Manufacturing Institute.
Welding instructor Tim Kinnaman worked closely with Julie to design and clarify the course content, and even to define Blount’s welding procedures. “Tim and the SAMI team understood exactly what we needed and customized a program that gave it to us,” says Julie. “The training was held right here at our hull shop, which meant that trainees were surrounded by experienced boat builders. They got 180 hours of instruction in eight weeks.
They would sit in the classroom, and then go out into the yard for hands-on experience. It was a perfect mix.” In addition to updated welding techniques, trainees learned peripheral skills like safety protocols and blueprint reading. When the course was completed, all seven graduates were hired by Blount and were put to work just four days later.
Today, Blount Boats is wholly invested in a continuing alliance with the SAMI program, to keep the pipeline of highly trained welders flowing. Julie Blount sums up the ongoing collaboration in four powerful words: “It’s a win/win.”
If you’re interested in keeping your staff and services current in an evolving economy, call the Center for Technology and Industry at New England Tech, (401) 739-5000.