SAIC, a Fortune 500 company, is the largest employee-owned research and engineering company in the nation. The company provides information technology services to clients around the globe. Formed in 1969, SAIC now employs more than 41,000 people, with locations across the country and several offices worldwide. The Marine Operations division has offices on the East and West Coasts of the United States and performs important services relevant to the maritime industry.
About half of SAIC’s business base consists of contracts with state, local, and federal governments; the other half is commercial. The Marine Operations division’s clients include the U.S. Navy, geotechnical companies, and many companies in the offshore oil and gas industry.
"SAIC now employs more than 41,000 people, with locations across the country and several offices worldwide"
Some of the key marine fields in which SAIC operates include surveying, undersea range work, and port and harbor security. It also provides support for the navy’s marine mammal research lab, which trains the animals to recover test ordnance and perform other navy tasks for which they are uniquely suited.
SAIC has been a leader in the field of oceanographic survey operations for more than twenty years, having developed unique survey concepts. The company applies these concepts to all types of marine operations, including physical oceanographic studies in shallow and deep water, environmental surveys, hydrographic surveys, and search-and-locate operations.
SAIC is also active in the design, installation, and operation of undersea military test ranges, which involves working with cabling, fiber optics, Global Positioning System (GPS) technologies, and tracking equipment such as hydrophones and transducers. In addition to installing and operating ranges for the U.S. Navy, the company has installed systems in the Bahamas and Australia.
Port and security work is another area of SAIC’s expertise. This involves installing interdiction and radar devices, for example, to provide intrusion detection for a range of applications from harbors to offshore oil platforms.
Technicians Are Key
Of course, all this work requires skilled personnel. “Excellent technicians are absolutely essential for us,” says Norm Estabrook, vice president of Marine Operations for SAIC. “From long-term operations and maintenance support efforts to at-sea activities, where technicians collect data, perform data analysis, and manage the equipment, we couldn’t get by without them.”
In such a large organization, technicians work in many areas. A few examples of the kinds of technicians SAIC employs demonstrate this diversity of opportunity.
“Back deck” technicians perform a wide variety of tasks, and often ‘a little bit of everything.’ Their work includes cable installation and burial, instrumentation installation, and operation and maintenance of equipment such as linear cable engines and winches as well as survey tools such as towed bodies, sonars, laser line scanners, and navigation equipment.
Examples of other, more specific, technician positions abound. Diver technicians perform cable inspections and assist with survey work in shallow areas. Range technicians handle the operation and maintenance of range instrumentation and are also involved in small boat and ROV operation. Technicians in the marine survey areas maintain and operate all kinds of survey equipment, including side scan sonar, sub-bottom profilers, acoustic Doppler current profilers, and data processing and charting equipment.
Wide-Ranging Skill Sets
With such a range of technician positions, what does SAIC look for in a potential employee? Some skills are quantifiable, whereas others are best described as personality or character traits and are less easy to define.
“I want someone with a keen interest in learning the skills that they’ll need in working with us,” Estabrook begins. “Good interpersonal skills, a strong work ethic (technicians can work up to sixteen hours a day sometimes, in the field), the ability to follow directions and to hold up under stress, creativity, and flexibility – there are many things,” he continues. The more quantifiable skills that Estabrook looks for are good computer and electronics skills, for example.
Typically, SAIC hires individuals who have worked in the navy or in commercial settings, where they’ve learned their trades through on-the-job training. Estabrook also recruits graduates of maritime academies. “On-the-job training is by far and away the dominant training method,” he explains. “Often we have an older technician training a younger employee, too, in a manner that is not far removed from an apprenticeship,” he adds.
"SAIC has been a leader in the field of oceanographic survey operations for more than twenty years"
The MATE Connection
“If you hire individuals who have mastered their skills on the job, they’re generally good people. But it’s possible that this is not the most efficient way to go about it,” Estabrook acknowledges.
This is where the MATE Center comes in. Because technicians are so important to SAIC’s maritime business, and on-the-job training is the most common way to find good employees, Estabrook sees many advantages in the kinds of technician training programs the MATE Center is developing.
SAIC’s Marine Operations division recently signed an employer partnering agreement with the MATE Center – testament to its commitment to the Center’s efforts. “Both of us stand to benefit from this relationship,” Estabrook states. “SAIC brings internship opportunities, possible jobs, and input to curriculum design. On the other hand, we will gain access to better trained individuals – to a labor pool with the latest training.”
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