Top Admiral In Hampton Roads Urges Focus On Jobs
VIRGINIA BEACH - The Navy's top admiral in Hampton Roads had jobs on his mind Friday - not his own (he will retire this summer) but some 8,000 that local shipyards will look to fill over the next five years.
That represents "an enormous opportunity" to build the region's industrial base while placing young people on a path to stable employment, said Adm. John C. Harvey Jr., the head of Fleet Forces Command. But it won't happen unless the area's leaders work together to create the necessary workforce training programs, he told members of the Navy League's Hampton Roads Council.
Harvey said the private and public shipyards are hungry for skilled labor to replace a generation of retiring workers. About one quarter of the jobs are in engineering and design and require a college degree. And the rest have grown more complex, demanding more math and science skills. They also require a security clearance, so a criminal record or financial problems might disqualify candidates.
Harvey said he's concerned that Hampton Roads isn't in a position to take advantage of this opportunity, even as one in five young adults in the region is unemployed.
"I simply can't stress enough the need to invest in our young people."
High schools and community colleges have a critical role to play, he said, but they can't do it alone.
He recalled the consternation in 2007 when Ford Motor Co. announced it would close the Norfolk truck assembly plant.
"That Ford plant is gone. But the Navy is still here, and we will be here for years to come," he said. "If we do this right, we're going to provide 8,000 jobs that will be lifelong jobs, that will be jobs that will support a family."
The four-star admiral sought to offer reassurance about the defense budget cuts that will be announced next week. Defense spending amounts to about 45 percent of the region's economic activity, he said, and he doesn't expect that to change much over the next few years.
He offered praise for Virginia Beach's efforts to roll back encroachment around Oceana Naval Air Station, which a 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission had recommended be shut down.
"Resolving this issue was a huge step forward," he said. "I believe it will ensure we keep the naval air station in Virginia Beach should another BRAC take place."