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Naval Expansion Is Generating New Skilled Trades Opportunities

A worker paints the side of a large military style ship safely from a raised platform.

The United States Navy is building more ships. In December 2020, the Navy announced a $147 billion plan that will add 82 new ships to the fleet in the five years between 2022 and 2026. It’s a sweeping expansion, one that would see the Navy build new unmanned ships, expand the submarine fleet and more.

That plan is a few years in the future, but the shipbuilding industry needs help now. It is currently stretched building two attack submarines per year and the 6-7 new build surface ships in development at any given time. They need people now.

Because of that, there are a host of opportunities for skilled trade workers to get into the industry. Whether you have shipbuilding experience or not, it’s worth looking at. Aerotek talked to Strategic Account Executive Matt Raehn to learn more about skilled trade opportunities in the shipbuilding industry.

A reliable, stable industry

To an extent, the shipbuilding industry is fairly predictable. There are a few reasons for this.

First and foremost, it’s a secure industry. The Navy is building new ships each year regardless of expansion plans, and it’s always maintaining and repairing the current fleet. They always need people for those two operations, that work isn’t going anywhere.

The industry is also resilient to government changes. Even if the Department of Defense and Congress are wrangling over budget, it’s unlikely for maintenance and repair to fully stop.

You also know where you’re going to work. Shipbuilding and fleet maintenance occur in only a few places. Aerotek supports shipbuilding and/or repair in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Mississippi, Virginia, Florida, Hawaii, California, Washington, Alabama, Oregon, Louisiana and South Carolina. Support outside the contiguous United States includes British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Guam and Japan.

It’s worth keeping in mind that many positions are contracted, so you won’t be committing to living long-term in Newport News or Pearl Harbor.

All types of skills and experience levels are in demand

Building new ships is only a part of the industry. Repair and maintenance of the current fleet is just as important “About 95% of the work we support in this space is in repair and modernization,” Raehn says.

It’s important work, and the Navy’s current plan includes $10 billion to fund it. All types of skills are in demand. In particular, welders, outside machinists, pipefitters and electricians are needed.

It’s not a problem if you don’t have direct shipbuilding industry experience. If you’re good at your job, the industry is willing to take you. That said, what you do is going to depend on your experience. If you’re a welder with repair shop experience, your role may be different than a welder with manufacturing experience.

There are other paths into shipbuilding. Firewatchers are in high demand and can often be a way into the industry. It’s not a complex job, but they perform an essential function. Also keep in mind most of the work does not require a security clearance, so you won’t need to jump through any hoops in that respect.

Unique, purpose-driven work

Along with job security and pay benefits, working in the shipbuilding industry is very rewarding. It’s unique, purpose-driven work. You’re building and maintaining the ‘machines’ that enable the Navy to do their duty.

Overall, the industry offers an experience that other lines of work can’t match. There aren’t many jobs that allow you to see a destroyer or aircraft carrier, let alone work directly on one. “To be honest, it’s just really cool,” says Raehn.

Shipbuilding is an industry that offers a lot of flexibility. You can sign up for a short contract, make good money, add to your resume and move to the next job. Or you can be in it for the long haul. Whether that means relocating to a shipbuilding center or following the work around the country is entirely up to you.

The shipbuilding industry is constantly looking for skilled trades workers of various skill sets. There are all sorts of opportunities, whether you’re looking for a purpose or just a change of pace. If that sounds interesting, contact Aerotek today.