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

The US maritime industry contributes more than $154 billion in total economic output and creates $41 billion in labor income for US workers each year. And it continues to grow — the Navy’s proposed fiscal 2020 budget requests funding for the procurement of 12 new ships. However, industry experts note that shipbuilding and repair work face increasing challenges from an aging workforce and difficulties 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:

  • 7% unemployment (lowest in half a century)
  • 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. Here are some recommendations on standing up a workforce in a challenging hiring environment:

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. 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.

PREMIUM CONTENT: How temps’ wages are determined


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:

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, which is an independent agency under the supervision and oversight of the Secretary of Commerce that 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.

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. 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.

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.

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.

Matthew Boldyga

Matthew Boldyga
Matthew Boldyga is a strategic initiative executive for Aerotek, specializing in the shipbuilding industry.

Matthew Boldyga

Share This Post


Recent Articles

Powered by ·