Nathan Leaver knows he hit the Hawaii job jackpot.
The 25-year-old, who grew up in Waimanalo, was one of 128 graduates yesterday of the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard apprentice program.
In 2006, when the graduating class started, the average pay was about $17 an hour. Now at graduation the average pay is $29 an hour.
At the peak of a shipyard career as a department head or other senior manager, a worker who started as an apprentice can make more than $140,000 a year.
"It’s probably one of the best jobs in the state," Leaver said. "We get to work on nuclear submarines. I work on electronics, sonar, radar. It’s pretty exciting."
More than 650 people, graduates included, attended the ceremony at the Pearl Harbor gazebo.
The shipyard is the largest industrial employer in the state, with a combined civilian and military work force of about 4,800 and an operating budget of $563 million.
"Congratulations, graduates, and welcome to your new role as leaders," shipyard commander Rear Adm. (Select) Gregory Thomas told the group. "The men and women who are members of the shipyard look forward to continuing to work with you, side by side, for many years to come to keep the ships and submarines of our 21st-century Pacific Fleet fit to fight."
Four years ago there were 4,042 applicants for 140 positions. Out of those, 128 graduated yesterday to become journeyman shipyard workers. The apprentices go through four years of work and study at Honolulu Community College and the shipyard.
U.S. Rep. Charles Djou, R-Hawaii, told the apprentices that their graduation means more than securing a good job. The job they are about to do "is part of protecting our nation," Djou said.
Djou noted that North Korea seized a South Korean fishing boat Sunday after the U.S. and South Korea earlier conducted war games off the Korean peninsula.
North Korea also was blamed by an international investigation for the sinking of a South Korean warship on March 26, causing the deaths of 46 South Korean crew members.
"The world still remains a very dangerous place," Djou said yesterday.
Approximately 90 percent of the shipyard’s work is on submarines. Pearl Harbor has 17 attack submarines with an 18th, the Virginia-class USS North Carolina, now making its way to Hawaii.
Lucky Muyot, 34, who was born in California, raised in Waipahu and lives in Wahiawa, tried three times to get into the apprentice program.
"I passed all three times. I went through all the interviews. I guess the third time was the lucky charm," said Muyot, who is a rigger.
"I encourage everyone to try out and take the test and the refresher course they offer," he said. He said his shipyard position is "a stable job with a good future. Good camaraderie, too, with all these guys."
Carol and Harry Sonoda were there yesterday for their son, Ryan, 29, a welder. The Aiea High School graduate has three children.
"He was so happy that he got into the program," Carol Sonoda said. "It’s a secure job, and with a young family he really needs a secure job."