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All Aboard for Fleet Expansion: 3 Tips for Staffing Shipbuilding Projects


The maritime industry contributes more than $154 billion in total economic output and creates $41 billion in labor income for American workers each year. And it continues to grow — the Navy’s proposed FY2020 budget requests funding for the procurement of 12 new ships. However, industry experts note that shipbuilding and repair work is facing increasing challenges from an aging workforce and a problem convincing young Americans that shipyard work is essential and well-paying. What are some strategies that employers can employ to recruit the shipbuilding workforce of today and tomorrow?

A challenging labor picture
Some August 2019 stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provide insight into the headwinds employers face across all industries in their recruitment efforts:

  • 3.7% unemployment (lowest in half a century)
  • 3.5 million job quits
  • 130,000 jobs added

Recruiting maritime workers
This labor shortage, coupled with annual shipbuilding industry growth predicted at 6.6% until 2023, demands a staffing strategy to beat the odds, notes Aerotek Strategic Initiative Executive Matthew Boldyga. Here are some of his recommendations on standing up a workforce in a challenging hiring environment:

3 tips for staffing shipbuilding projects

1. Know the market
To make the most cost-efficient hires, it’s best to have a deep understanding of the industry as well as what factors influence labor availability and wages, such as the presence of competitors recruiting the same workers.

2. Job descriptions matter
Make sure your job descriptions provide candidates with a realistic view of the day-to-day responsibilities. Getting workers in the door doesn’t mean much if they leave soon after.

3. Communicate your Employee Value Proposition (EVP)
Candidates are looking for a clear understanding of the company culture and what they gain from working with your organization. Show them why you’re the best employer with company and culture specifics that will resonate with them.


Taking the long view with training programs
Shipbuilding has the opportunity to reach out to unskilled workers and get them the training they need to join the industry, leveraging a number of programs, says Boldyga:

Maritime Administration's Small Shipyard Grant Program: This program supports small shipyards in providing training for workers in shipbuilding, ship repair and associated industries.

JOBS Act: Bipartisan legislation backed by community college and business groups that would make certificate programs — even non-credit-bearing courses — as short as eight weeks eligible for Federal Pell Grants, giving more people the opportunity to pursue the training needed to begin a career in the trades.

State funded training facilities: In one example, Austal, a global defense contractor, worked with Alabama state legislators in conjunction with Global 500 companies such as Airbus, Lockheed Martin, General Electric, Honda and Boeing, to create a workforce development program called Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT). AIDT, an independent agency under the supervision and oversight of the Secretary of Commerce, encourages economic development through job-specific training. Training services are offered in many areas, at no cost, to new and expanding businesses throughout the state. “When Austal arrived, there wasn’t a workforce that had the skills necessary for aluminum shipbuilding, so they created one,” says Boldyga.

Apprenticeship programs: The Apprentice School — founded in 1919 at Newport News Shipbuilding —offers four-, five-, and eight-year apprenticeships in 19 shipbuilding disciplines and eight advanced programs of study. The school offers apprentices the opportunity to earn college credit, receive competitive pay and benefits and learn a trade. The school was created to recruit, train and develop men and women for careers in shipbuilding, with a special emphasis on helping veterans transition from the military to the civilian workforce. The school also builds partnerships with local community colleges that offer training in the trades.

Preparing future generations
To address the crucial topic of satisfying the ongoing demand for skilled trades workers, we need to change the perception surrounding the pursuit of a career in the trades versus a four-year college degree, which requires leaders to get in front of our youth early and often, Boldyga says. “Once you convince young Americans to pursue careers in the skilled trades, you still then need to convince them to pursue work in the shipyards, so there’s a lot of competition for a workforce.”

Avoiding work disruption
“In order to make the industry more attractive, we need to continue to push on our state representatives to authorize multi-year spending that will allow the industry to have more stability and avoid yearly Continuing Resolutions that make it very difficult to count on the funding needed to make capital investments and plan for the future. This also disrupts scheduling, which changes/cancels ship availabilities and often leaves voids in the workflow that have caused mass layoffs in previous years,” according to Boldyga.

Find a trusted partner
Finally, your chances of achieving success in the long-term could depend on finding a talent acquisition partner with a proven track record of delivering the talent needed to succeed in this industry.

Since 2015, Aerotek has hired more than 9,200 personnel to support shipbuilding, maintenance and modernization activities throughout the country, and have been a named pre-award subcontractor to most integrators on the Touch Labor MAC IDIQ contracts that support Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, as well as several other multiple award contracts through Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Information Warfare Center and Naval Surface Warfare Center.

To ensure that your business captures its share of this $25.7 billion industry, you need all hands on deck. Working together, we can help ensure a steady supply of shipbuilding construction and repair workers now and into the future. Contact Aerotek to learn more.