Joe Hilton, a welding instructor for the apprenticeship program, shows the machine that combines virtual reality with reality to teach welding skills. (Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News Group)

Joe Hilton, a welding instructor for the apprenticeship program, shows the machine that combines virtual reality with reality to teach welding skills. (Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News Group)

Don’t miss the boat: Nichols Bros. looking for workers

The Whidbey Island company has opportunities. “We’re building the next generation of boat builders.”

By Jessie Stensland

South Whidbey Record

The largest civilian employer on Whidbey Island builds and fixes giant vessels of steel or aluminum, but Nichols Brothers manages to keep a relatively low profile.

Yet officials at the boat-building company hope to garner more attention, especially from job seekers, as a rising tide of work is about to converge on the boatyard.

The company currently has about 220 employees and an additional 10 people work there through a labor contractor. Officials plan on hiring as many as 80 more people as projects gear up. The company has contracts that will keep it busy through 2021. About 85% of the company’s employees live on the island, and it’s not uncommon for generations of families to work in the yard.

The boat builder’s apprenticeship program will be an important part of filling jobs, according to Kevin Corrigan, human resources director.

He said apprentices earn a “living wage” as they get on-the-job training, which is supplemented by off-the-clock classes. If everything works out, they became certified as journeymen — and earn a nice living — in three years.

The company invested in virtual reality training, including a welding apparatus that incorporates real welding with virtual welding.

“We’re building the next generation of boat builders,” Corrigan said.

Pete Sinclair, director of planning, is busy these days dealing with the influx and diversity of work, which includes a combination of custom boat building and the refurbishment of older vessels, as well as the unique aspects of steel and aluminum work.

“The industry tends to be cyclic,” he explained, “but right now we’re seeing an uptick nearly across the board.”

Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News Group                                A welder works on a high-speed passenger ferry that Nichols Brothers is building for Kitsap Transit.

Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News Group A welder works on a high-speed passenger ferry that Nichols Brothers is building for Kitsap Transit.

Nichols Brothers has a contract with Foss Maritime Company to build four new class ASD 90 tugboats, with an option for an additional six. The 100-foot tugs were designed by Jensen Maritime Consultants of Seattle. The delivery of the first four vessels will begin in the winter of 2020.

An upside-down, aluminum skeleton at the boatyard is the first of two 140-foot high-speed passenger ferries the company is building for Kitsap Transit. The catamarans will someday move passengers at a maximum speed of 36 knots.

Nichols Brothers is continuing its work with the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District, which has overseen dramatic ferry ridership growth in the San Francisco Bay area. The Sonoma, built in 1976, will soon be en route to Whidbey Island to be completely refurbished.

Jeff Giese, director of manufacturing, said an entirely new boat could have been built for the amount of money it will take to strip and rebuild the Sonoma, a foot ferry with a retro style.

“There’s something about the styling, the feel of the boat that they like,” he said.

In addition, the boatyard continues to see a steady stream of service and repair jobs, including work for the Navy. A large barge in the water had recently stopped by for “a shave and a haircut,” Corrigan said.

The company made changes to the facility this year. Concrete was poured over a large area to allow for more work. A green sound wall was completed to soften the impact of the work on neighbors.

The boat builders supplied the pyrotechnical barge for Freeland’s famous Celebrate America fireworks show on July 3.

Those interested in working for Nichols Brothers can see job postings and information about the apprenticeship program at the company’s website, www.nicholsboats.com

This story originally appeared in the South Whidbey Record, a sibling paper to the Herald.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Think Tank Cowork in Everett, Washington on July 19, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
The first co-working space opens in downtown Everett

Think Tank Cowork’s owner hopes the facility will inspire other business owners to call Everett home.

New LGI Homes on Thursday, May 12, 2022 in Sultan, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
The real estate market took an abrupt turn this spring

Mortgage rates are up, but home inspections, seller concessions are back on the table for buyers.

The Lab@Arlington is a new one-stop shop for entrepreneurs and inventors located at 404 N. Olympic Ave. (Photo credit: TheLab@Arlington)
New Arlington business incubator opens

TheLab@Arlington is a new one-stop shop for entrepreneurs, inventors and business owners.

Patrons view the 787 exhibition Thursday morning at the Boeing Future of Flight Musuem at Paine Field on October 8, 2020. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Paine Field was county’s No. 1 tourist attraction. Not now

Snohomish County officials hope festivals and outdoor activities will fill Paine Field tourist gap.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Stanwood in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Stanwood Chamber of Commerce ‘can’t keep the doors open’

The chamber is set to shut down at the end of the month due to financial challenges.

OnTrac Logistics has leased a building now under construction at Bay Wood Business Park on Everett's waterfront. The shipping company will open a facility there later this year that will employ 400 people. (Artist Rendering/Broderick Group.)
New Everett shipping facility to generate 400 jobs

OnTrac Logistics has leased a new building on the 12½-acre Baywood Business Park on Everett’s waterfront.

Maria Rios, a ferry worker of 13 years, helps Frank and Fran Butler, both of Washington, D.C., check out as the couple purchases food on Thursday, July 21, 2022, aboard the MV Suquamish ferry between Mukilteo and Clinton, Washington. Rios said food service returned to the Suquamish about three weeks prior. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Drink up! Happy hour on the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry is back

More galleys are reopening as pandemic restrictions scale back. Get out of your car for concessions just like at the ballpark.

The Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum at Paine Field in Everett. (Janice Podsada / The Herald) 20220419
Flying Heritage Museum to reopen with new owner at Paine Field

Walmart heir Steuart Walton bought the historic aircraft and artifacts. The museum is set to reopen within the year.

Renee's Contemporary Clothing store at 2820 Colby Ave. on July 11, 2022. The iconic downtown Everett store is closing in August after 29 years in business. (Janice Podsada/The Herald)
Renee’s, another iconic downtown Everett store, is closing

After 29 years in business, the longstanding clothing shop will shutter. In-person sales slowed when stores reopened.

FILE - The logo for Boeing appears on a screen above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Tuesday, July 13, 2021. Boeing is reporting a money-losing quarter as both its civilian-airplane division and the defense business are struggling. Boeing said Wednesday, April 27, 2022,  that it lost $1.24 billion in the first quarter and took large write-downs for several programs.  (AP Photo/Richard Drew, file)
Boeing sees best month for aircraft deliveries since 2019

The company delivered 51 passenger and cargo planes in June, its best month for deliveries in recent years.

The Alderwood Towne Center, a 105,000 square-foot strip mall, is located at 3105-3225 Alderwood Mall Blvd. The mall, which has been sold, is home to 20 businesses, including anchor tenants Marshalls and Michaels. Photo Credit: CBRE Group.
Lynnwood strip mall near Link Light Rail Station sold

Alderwood Towne Center, home to 20 businesses, could eventually be redeveloped to take advantage of light rail.

James Berntson shows how his farm uses a trellis system to control tomato plants on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at Radicle Roots Farm in Snohomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Backyard business: Snohomish farm thrives on less than one acre.

James Berntson grew Radicle Roots Farm using smart crop planning and organic practices.