HomeTop StoriesNewport News yard is looking for experienced workers for nuclear shipbuilding

Newport News yard is looking for experienced workers for nuclear shipbuilding

HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding is ramping up its recruitment efforts to attract more employees to expand its nuclear shipbuilding workforce.

The Virginia-based shipyard met its hiring goals in 2023 and is on track to meet them again in 2024, Xavier Beale, vice president of human resources at Newport News Shipbuilding, told Defense News in a May 23 interview.

The yard plans to hire 3,000 skilled trades this year, but should bring in 19,000 over the next decade, Beale said, adding that existing training pipelines in the Hampton Roads region are unable to bring enough new workers to Newport News to lead.

Beale said volume is just one issue when it comes to recruiting. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States in 2020, a wave of highly experienced workers retired. Replacing these master craftsmen with recent high school graduates has hurt productivity.

While it is difficult to find talent with decades of experience in shipbuilding, it may be best to find talent with years of experience as a welder or electrician outside of the shipbuilding industrial base, Beale said.

To this end, the shipyard is adjusting its recruitment efforts. It recently launched an initiative with government agencies in North Carolina to attract and train skilled trade workers who could continue to live in North Carolina and take buses to Newport News every day. Beale said more than 1,000 North Carolinians already work at the yard, and he sees “great untapped potential in that neighboring state.”

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To reach skilled machinists, electricians, welders, pipe fitters and more who have worked in sectors other than the shipbuilding industrial base, “nationwide we are expanding our typical recruiting area,” Beale said. “We have identified regions within the country that may be ripe for talent harvesting, and through our ‘Build It’ campaign we aim to reach and penetrate those areas, specifically targeting those experienced workforces. ” The campaign aims to draw attention to various jobs on site.

Beale said his team is working on digital outreach and also sending people across the country to connect with local labor councils and industry associations in their goal to find skilled workers who might consider moving to Virginia to work on submarines and aircraft carriers. to work.

The focus on hiring experienced employees is twofold. This is partly about efforts to make up for the knowledge and experience lost during the wave of retirements during the pandemic. The other part has to do with new employees without experience – people straight out of high school or from other sectors – who often experience “a bit of a culture shock” at the shipyard.

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Beale said the company is doing what it can to prepare new hires for that, but turnover in the industry is difficult to reduce, especially when culture shock is coupled with “the dramatic escalation of wages in the service sector following the COVID-19 -crisis. as well as the escalation of minimum wages post-COVID.”

“There is compression in what has historically been a gap between what we can offer and what is offered there, so that is a challenge. But we are doing our best to navigate through that,” Beale added.

While the company might spend sixteen weeks training a recent high school graduate who might not stick around for long, the experienced welders and electricians require less training and, for the most part, understand what they are getting into.

“Even if it’s not on our platforms, or honestly not even in our industry – if they have the aptitude and the experience, the acceleration of time to talent will be much faster than with an inexperienced person,” Beale said.

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A welder works on a steel panel at the Newport News Shipbuilding campus in Norfolk, which opened in November 2023.  (Ashley Cowan/HII)

A welder works on a steel panel at the Newport News Shipbuilding campus in Norfolk, which opened in November 2023. (Ashley Cowan/HII)

That’s not to say the company has stopped enticing locals to participate in training programs and work on site. Beale said some of the U.S. Navy’s funding for the submarine industrial base in recent years went to the Hampton Roads Workforce Council to coordinate local efforts with high schools, community colleges and trade schools to train new workers and give them a to give a job. at Newport News and its local suppliers.

Beale said over the past 18 to 24 months the council has improved its understanding of regional labor demand, the current capacity to train new workers and what it will take to increase that production. He said the Navy funds “have been instrumental in building capacity within our region.”

However, he is concerned that the local region will not be able to meet all of the yard’s staffing needs as the yard grows from around 26,000 employees today to more than 30,000 by the early 2030s.

“We have expanded the region quite a bit. We still know that there is untapped potential, especially in underserved communities and in our rural communities that we are increasingly pursuing. But the broader recruitment strategy [looks] in importing more talent into our region,” he said.

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