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Finding the Next Generation of Shipbuilders / Ship Repairers

All of us in this Industry know that the average age of a Shipyard Journeyman is 54 and increasing every year. This has been the status for several years now and plenty of articles have been written about this problem.

The challenge we all face is how to capture the knowledge base and pass that on to the next generation. Moreover; where do we find that next generation, and will they have the skill set needed?

The traditional path has been to assign helpers / handy-persons to those mechanics and let the process of absorption take its natural course over a given period. Unfortunately this process is becoming less and less acceptable for many reasons.

One is the tightening marketplace that is making it hard for the smaller repair yards to have ample funds to develop and continue a full-time training program. We have all seen the scenario play out; when we are busy, we are working too many hours to accommodate the training and when we are slow, we can’t keep the employees working. That is what is currently happening with the downturn in the current Government workload.

 Secondly, the Journeyman are leaving at a faster rate than the absorption process requires. A competent Journeyman needs at least 10 years of skill training to cover the aspects of any trade. This is not happening because the workload cannot support keeping the workforce stable enough to maintain employment at a controllable rate.

Apprenticeship programs were once the constant in the training process, allowing companies to bring in tested, knowledgeable employees who would eventually fulfill management positions if desired, or become that next generation of skilled Journeyman. However, this is becoming harder to accomplish especially for the smaller yards because the local school systems are inherently geared toward steering their students toward college. This is slowly changing, but this is just one aspect needing more work.

The Industry has to do a better job of taking our message to those institutions to dispel the myth that Shipyard work is menial, dangerous, and unforgiving. Nothing is further from the truth. For one, all manufacturing jobs have a certain safety risk to them, but the Shipyard Industry has made great strides to recognize those risk factors and put processes in place to mitigate the chances of accidents happening.

The shipbuilding industry is anything but menial and unforgiving. This industry is one of the highest paying endeavors in this area and in every port where shipyards exist. There are a myriad of trades to learn and each is a lot more complicated than the average person understands.

With all of this being said; I am tossing out the gauntlet to every member of our great Industry to become active with your school systems, volunteer for the call to support VSRF activities, and foremost, pass on your knowledge to those deserving of it and set the path for the continuation of our support of the greatest Navy this world will ever know. Be the catalyst for the next generation of Shipbuilders in our great nation.    

About the Author

Terry Stead is currently the Corporate Planner Scheduler / Apprentice Program Director / NMEC Representative / NCCER Certified Instructor at Tecnico Corporation.  He graduated from the Newport News Apprenticeship program in 1975 as a Shipfitter.  He worked at Norshipco from 1976 until 1998 starting as a second class mechanic and working thru the ranks to Superintendet / Asst. Forman Plate shop to Program Manager. In 1998, Terry started working at Tecnico as Superintendent to Production Manager. Terry has served on the VSRF Board of Directors since 2005 and is currently the Vice Chair.


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