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Diving Into New Career Opportunities: What Prospective Commercial Divers Need To Know

The docks where students are provided hands-on training through the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters Dive School.

U.S. infrastructure has long been in need of a makeover. When the White House passed its Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in 2021, it cited examples of builds that have been desperate for improvements, which include over 45,000 bridges that are “in poor condition.” 

Reconstructing bridges and other offshore assets involves more than meets the eye. To ensure that infrastructure can hold up properly means construction teams will need to bring in more commercial divers who can go underwater to inspect the structure and determine what repairs are needed.

Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters, a union carpentry organization affiliated with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, has stepped in to bring more commercial divers into the workforce who have the proper skills and training to handle underwater building projects.

EASRCC has been financing two dive schools, located in Sicklerville and Hammonton, New Jersey, to provide an apprenticeship for construction professionals who are working toward their certification in two aspects of construction that occur below the surface: underwater welding and pile driving.

Tim Waring, a training coordinator for EASRCC, said that once students obtain their commercial diving certification from the dive school, they will be able to enter the union’s four-year apprenticeship program, which offers training both in the classroom and on the job.

Donald Dryden is the CEO of the Dryden Diving Co., which works with EASRCC to provide marine construction training. Dryden said that workers not only need to have the technical skills and education, but they should also be able to have the physical and psychological capability to handle complex underwater work.

“If you can’t do the job topside, you can’t do it underwater, and the school provides the mechanics for those who can work topside, so that when they go under the water, they know what they’re doing,” Dryden said. “The UBC is motivated, not by profit or fulfilling a quota of students in the program, but on getting someone who is physically and mentally fit and has an aptitude for diving."

Donnie Gibbons, a member of the Piledrivers and Divers Local Union 474, demonstrating diving training at the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters Dive School in Sicklerville, New Jersey.

Students learn underwater welding, pile driving and how to pour concrete as well as rig and signal cranes. Dryden said this training will directly help prepare apprentices on marine infrastructure projects. Students will also learn aspects of ship husbandry — or ship upkeep — and how to use tools such as chainsaws and augers for drilling, which are especially important when building docks.

Waring said that in addition to teaching the right terminology and skills, the dive school makes safety training its top priority. This involves knowing how to use construction tools underwater and how to protect oneself when working on a job site where contamination is present.

“We want recruits who are focused on being well-rounded safe construction workers,” Waring said. “Getting a fair living wage is important, but the biggest priority is ultimately safety.”

Dryden said the need for extensive additional safety training distinguishes underwater jobs from land jobs. As divers can spend up to four hours underwater, and even longer if they are doing a job in deep waters, they are expected to always be in exceptional physical condition. Additionally, they must undergo an annual physical as well as complete training in CPR, how to use a defibrillator and other emergency management techniques. They also have to keep a dive log that can help with providing information pertaining to safety.

“By going through the apprenticeship program, the carpenters get a good basis of education, they learn the right terminology and understand safety,” Dryden said. 

Union apprentices are contributing their efforts toward The Gateway Project, which has received funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, with the goal of building as well as making updates to bridges and tunnels that run between New Jersey and New York, along the Northeast Corridor.

Dryden said that because of the decreased visibility, tasks become more tedious underwater. Therefore, it is important that divers have the right skills and techniques to perform underwater projects successfully.

“For almost anything that you’re building in the water, you’ll need to have trained divers at some point in the operation,” Dryden said.

This article was produced in collaboration between Carpenter Contractor Trust and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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