Skip navigation

The apprentice mindset

Tidewater Community College is proud to recognize four apprentices on track to becoming certified journeymen in their trades. A journeyman is a worker skilled in a trade or craft who has successfully completed an official apprenticeship qualification.

All four are part of the Oceaneering Marine Services Division apprentice program with TCC as their academic partner. All are full-time employees of Oceaneering and earn while they learn on the job, gaining knowledge and skill by working with seasoned craftsmen.

Oceaneering’s program takes three to four years to complete and includes at least 2,000 hours of on-the-job training.

Also, Oceaneering apprentices receive full scholarships to TCC from the Virginia Vocational Incentive Scholarship Plan for shipyard workers. All four are earning TCC’s Career Studies Certificates in the evenings in related fields.

“I’m thrilled to see our apprentices excelling in their chosen fields,” said Guy St. John, Apprentice Program Manager at Oceaneering International. “Earning the certificate of completion as journeymen is not an easy task. The maritime industry is early hours and physically demanding. And these employees have added higher education to their already full schedules.”

Oceaneering apprentices share their secrets to success

John “Mikey” Pishnock, 29, started as a welder at Oceaneering in 2014 and has been part of the apprentice program since 2018. He is a third-generation welder, as were his father and grandfather before him. Mikey is taking a different professional track by working his way into a leadership role in the company. He currently works in the Planning division and is studying for the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification, a globally recognized certification that tests a candidate’s ability to manage the people, processes and business priorities of a professional project.

He earned two Career Studies Certificates from TCC, one in Welding and the other in Maritime Technologies. “My TCC courses helped me to learn to think more critically,” he said. “Also, getting out of the welding booth and doing more has been beneficial for my growth.”

Mikey is continuing his education at Old Dominion University where he is working on a bachelor’s in industrial technology with a focus in supervision.

“I’m glad I started in welding because it gives me a good idea of the work involved. You have to go through the ranks to move forward in leadership,” he said.

Mikey says he wishes he had started earlier. “TCC’s professors are there to help you one-on-one. They will come in early or leave late to make sure your questions are answered.”

“Anybody can excel in this program,” he added. “All it takes is a good attitude. Also, you have to be coachable and willing to work hard.”

Mikey was nominated for the Outstanding Junior Tradesman of the Year by the Virginia Ship Repair Association and earned his journeyman certificate in 2022.

A First Colonial High School graduate, Mikey resides in Virginia Beach and is newly married.

Christopher Muhlbaier, 33, is a Hickory High School graduate and Chesapeake resident who earned his accredited journeyman certificate in 2022. Chris is an outside machinist and has worked on U.S. Navy surface craft and submarines on alteration installation teams.

He joined the apprentice program in 2018 and has since earned Career Studies Certificates in Marine Mechanical and Maritime Technologies.

“It’s very rewarding being part of the Navy support system and making sure our sailors have what they need to work, when they need it,” he said.

Chris says he wanted to continue his education and found this a cost-effective way to do just that.

“I came to TCC right after high school and took computer science classes. I wasn’t ready for college then and spent the rest of my 20’s in retail,” Chris said.

He added, “This time around I was ready. I found my professors to be very helpful and, between the staff at TCC and Guy, I always had some way to get help if I needed it.”

Chris’ advice for future apprentices is simple: “Keep up with your schoolwork and stay ahead of assignments and tests. As long as you have the mindset to learn, just about anyone can be successful.”

Spencer Ottey joined the apprentice program in 2019 and will earn his journeyman certificate in 2023. This year he was nominated as the Junior Trades Person of the Year by the Virginia Ship Repair Association.

 He says, “This industry is physically and mentally challenging, and the work requires a high level of skill. I’m really proud of being recognized in this way.”

A Granby High School graduate, Spencer took welding classes at TCC before coming to Oceaneering.  “Getting to learn from some of the best in the field gave me a real boost. I can’t say enough about my instructors: Mr. Duke, Mr. Moody and Mr. Nimes. They were all excellent,” he said.

Spencer said that traditional college wasn’t a reasonable goal for him as he doesn’t enjoy sitting in a classroom, but prefers working with his hands. “The welding apprenticeship was a great fit because I got to learn from experienced craftsmen. They know the techniques and just watching them work, you learn so much. My mentor was Tim Kamits and I wouldn’t be in the position I am now without him.”

Spencer is a few classes away from earning an associate degree. He also has Career Studies Certificates in Welding and Maritime Technologies.

“It’s pretty intense building these crazy structures on submarines to ensure they can be repaired and ready for deployments,” he said. “It feels good knowing we are helping to defend our country and supplying the Navy with well-maintained ships and subs and helping get our service men and women home safe.”

Spencer says the thing he enjoyed most about TCC was that the classes matched up with industry needs. “Every class has a direct purpose on the job and that’s what makes the learning so phenomenal.”

As for advice for others, Spencer says, “Always be a team player and take your time to learn. There are no shortcuts. Work hard and stay safe.”

Gunner Standing grew up working for his father in the family construction business, pouring concrete and building homes. He is no stranger to hard work, having grown up in a rural part of Pungo where there were endless chores to do.

When the time for college came around, Gunner, 25, opted to go to work instead. “Some of my friends were doing odd jobs, but I was looking for a career. When I got into welding, everything just clicked.”

Gunner joined Oceaneering in 2019. From the start, his work was noticed by the seasoned welders on the job. “Welding is what I was meant to do, and the older guys were always there encouraging me,” he said.

“I had some confidence issues growing up but doing welding work changed all that.  It’s so beneficial to work with skilled tradespeople as you see how to do things right every day,” he said.

“I tell everyone to talk with the people at TCC. They are there to help. I’m encouraging many of my friends to come here and give this work a try. That way when I’m a supervisor, I will really know the crew,” he said with a laugh.

For those coming into the program next, he says, “Don’t come in thinking these classes are easy. And get very good at time management because you are going to need it. Have your weeks planned out, do meal prepping and laundry on a schedule.”

Gunner has earned a Career Studies Certificate in Welding and will soon complete another certificate in Maritime Technologies.

Gunner added, “It’s important to love what you do. There are many areas in the apprentice program. Pick the one that is right for you.”

Gunner will earn his journeyman certificate in 2023.

For information about TCC’s apprentice programs visit here. If your organization is interested in starting an apprentice initiative, contact TCC’s Apprenticeship Program Coordinator Shane Kiernan at 757-822-1504 or email

Sen. Kaine, Rep. Scott join President DeCinque to dedicate TCC’s Skilled Trades Academy

Sen. Tim Kaine and Rep. Bobby Scott used reciprocating saws to slice the ceremonial ribbon of Tidewater Community College’s Skilled Trades Academy at a Monday morning dedication event, presided over by President Gregory DeCinque in Portsmouth.

Corey McCray, vice president for the Center for Workforce Solutions, with Sen. Tim Kaine and President DeCinque.

The new 20,000-square-foot academy at 3303 Airline Blvd., is one of the largest run by a community college on the East Coast and the only one of its kind in Virginia. It provides short-term workforce training for in-demand construction and maritime trades.

“We can take people with zero background in skilled trades, put them through a three-week, pre-apprenticeship program and have them employed at a major shipyard making $18 an hour directly after,” President DeCinque said. “It’s a game changer for the region and the high demand fields that will drive our economy.”

Sen. Kaine, who grew up working in his father’s ironworking shop, has long pushed for increased access to career and technical education programs that prepare students for future careers. In July, key provisions from Kaine’s legislation to improve job training and career and technical education were signed into law by President Trump.

Sen. Kaine stressed the need to break down the stigma that prevents federal dollars from funding career and technical education. Under current law, Pell Grants cannot be used for short-term career and technical training.

“You can’t silo education and workforce training” he said. “We’ve got to break the silos down, and community colleges are where this is happening.”

Joining President DeCinque, Sen. Kaine and Rep. Scott on the platform were Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe, Chancellor Glenn DuBois of Virginia’s Community Colleges, and TCC Vice President for Workforce Solutions, Corey McCray.

The opening of the facility coincides with a critical workforce shortage in Hampton Roads, which anticipates 68 percent more job openings in skilled trades over the next five years than workers trained to fill them. Nationwide, 31 million skilled trade jobs will be vacated by baby boomers by 2020.

Rep. Scott said the academy “will provide the kind of transformational education that can take a minimum wage worker into someone comfortable in the middle class. The academy will be working with business and workforce officials who are here today to ensure that we’re training them for jobs that actually exist.”

Chancellor DuBois noted that a plethora of jobs are available that don’t require a bachelor’s degree. Community colleges, he said, play a role in giving everyone an opportunity to pursue the American dream.

Sen. Kaine toured the new academy.

“It’s great day to be alive in the commonwealth,” he said.

Oceaneering apprentice and TCC student Alicia Krampen worked for years in the construction field before making a career change into the submarine repair industry after undergoing training at the Skilled Trades Academy.

“I am thrilled that TCC is acting on the need for trained workers in our area,” she said. “In the trades industry, we have many people ageing out and retiring and not enough young people to take their place. The new Skilled Trades Academy will only help in the rebuilding of the workforce with the skillsets especially needed to continue to grow this type of industry.”

Current trades offered at the new academy are marine coating, pipefitting, pipe laying, welding, framing, electrical, HVAC, roofing and sheet metal.

Virginia Ship Repair Association, Colonna’s Shipyard, Newport News Shipbuilding, Lyon Shipyard, Oceaneering and Tecnico are among TCC’s regional partners in this effort, in addition to the school systems of Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach.

Construction partners include the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), Virginia Association of Roofing Professionals (VARP), Virginia Builds, and Hampton Roads Utility and Heavy Contractors Association (HRUHCA).

The dedication included the announcement of a special gift from Stanley Black & Decker. The world’s largest tool company will furnish all of the tools used by the students, a $250,000 investment. The company is also giving students access to a library of instruction videos. The donation is the company’s biggest in-kind investment ever in Virginia and one of the largest nationwide.

Ashia Gurley, left, and Rachel Jones completed sheet metal working and are employed at Newport News Shipyard.

“Stanley Black & Decker is proud to support cutting-edge programs like the Tidewater Community College Skilled Trades Academy, which are critical to growing jobs, spurring new advances, and helping our communities thrive,” said Mark DeBlanc, the company’s national sales director. “We are committed to helping future tradesmen and -women gain the skills and expertise needed to secure jobs and revitalize communities.”

Since TCC began delivering apprentice-related instruction in 1973, more than 1,600 apprentices have graduated. Earlier this year, TCC and Norfolk Naval Shipyard signed a three-year contract for the college to continue the academic component of its apprenticeship program. TCC also trains the majority of Newport News Shipbuilding’s apprentices.

Mayor Rowe noted the importance of maintaining the Navy’s fleet of ships in addition to building new ones. Apprenticeship training provides that workforce. “Shipbuilding and ship repair are a great national industry for the United States,” he said. “And the region that has the greatest number of jobs for that? Hampton Roads.”

In 2017, TCC created a pre-apprenticeship trades program in Portsmouth dedicated to welding, pipefitting and marine coating. Because of increased demand, TCC outgrew the 5,000-square-foot facility, which will continue to be used for training.

To date, 277 students have completed the short-term apprenticeship training, and 98 percent of them found employment.

“Today is such a good day for the commonwealth; it’s such a good day for Portsmouth,” Sen. Kaine said. “It’s such a good day for Tidewater Community College.”

Setting up an apprenticeship for your company is as easy as T-C-C

As machine shop manager at Electric Motor & Contracting Company, Inc., (EMC) Dan Purcell recognizes the importance of attracting young adults to a career field that doesn’t immediately jump to mind.

The Chesapeake-based company overhauls electric motors for industries ranging from nuclear to marine but it relies heavily on an older workforce with not enough young workers in the pipeline qualified to take their place in the next decade or more.

Jordan Myers
Jordan Myers

Beginning a registered apprenticeship program just made sense. Purcell just didn’t expect it to be so simple. He filled out minimal paperwork for the Department of Labor and collaborated with Tidewater Community College’s Apprenticeship Institute to provide the relevant coursework for the company based in Chesapeake’s Cavalier Industrial Park.

“Working with TCC has been the ticket,” Purcell said. “That was the part that helped me more than anything, having the educational component. Partnering with TCC has been fantastic.”

Registered apprenticeships depend on an “earn-while-you-learn” approach. Employers can build a qualified workforce in fields that include health care, construction or any industry that requires training to advance.

“TCC’s Apprenticeship Institute is responsible for making an employer’s interaction with the college as seamless possible,” said Todd Estes, director of the college’s Apprenticeship Institute.  “Employers don’t need to figure out how to get what they need from the college. It’s our job to make these partnerships as easy as possible for both apprentice and employer.”

TCC provides curriculum and instruction geared toward earning employees an industry-recognized credential.

Apprentices work full time and receive company benefits, including raises with pay starting at $12 and rising to $26 per hour by the end of the four-year apprenticeship. The coursework at TCC after work is on their own time, but EMC covers tuition and book costs.

Jordan Myers, 23, and Chance Styron, 29, are the company’s inaugural apprentices.

“This is a way to learn a skill and advance your career,” Styron said. “I’m not going to be a wrench-turner forever. It’s challenging work, but I enjoy it.”

“You get lots of hands-on experience,” said Myers, who was also assigned a mentor with the company. “Plus I love the fact you don’t have to pay for school.”

Apprenticeship, Purcell said, is a viable model that could work for multiple industries and it’s an alternative worth considering for someone who doesn’t fit into the traditional college mold.

“In 10 years, 60 percent of my workforce will be gone, and the labor pool is not what it used to be,” said Purcell, who says the company values committed worth ethic and the drive to succeed along with a mechanical aptitude. “Apprentices can earn a living, get their own place and still learn.”

Companies interested in setting up a registered apprenticeship program can contact Karen Miller, TCC’s interim associate vice president for corporate solutions & apprenticeship, at 757-822-1504.

TCC, Norfolk Naval Shipyard continue successful apprenticeship partnership

Tidewater Community College will continue providing the academic component of Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s apprenticeship program after being awarded a new three-year contract in February.

Apprentices accepted into the four-year program learn an in-demand maritime trade, earn college credit and receive a competitive salary, all while building a career with the federal government.

“Norfolk Naval Shipyard wants an educated workforce, which is why the TCC component is so critical,” said Michelle Woodhouse, provost of the Portsmouth Campus. “Apprentices in this program have earned the privilege of having this remarkable opportunity, which allows them to take advantage of the academic resources the college offers to further their career.”

“We are proud to continue our partnership with TCC,” said Colby Tynes, apprentice program director at Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY).

Apprentices take classes during regular working hours on weekdays at TCC’s Portsmouth Campus in two nine-week sessions, and upon completion, receive a Career Studies Certificate: Trades Technician. In the last three years of the program, apprentices undergo trade theory training and on-the-job learning at NNSY in Portsmouth, where they earn a wage ranging from $14.03 to $15.46 per hour. Apprentices are eligible for promotions after successful completion of program requirements.

Other NNSY benefits include sick leave, annual leave, federal holidays, health insurance, life insurance and a retirement plan.

Upon graduation, apprentices are eligible to be converted to the journeyman level of their trade.

Apprentices who want to further their education may apply their credits toward TCC’s Associate of Applied Science in Maritime Technologies. Graduates may transfer to Old Dominion University’s Occupational & Technical Studies program.

TCC and NNSY have been partners for the current apprenticeship program since 1996.

Applicants must be U.S. citizens, have graduated with a high school diploma or GED equivalent, meet minimum requirements on the TCC placements tests, be able to obtain and maintain a security clearance and pass medical requirements.

Applications for the 2019 apprentice class will be accepted beginning in November 2018.

For information about the program, email Professor David Steinhauer at or call 757-822-2424.