Home » Budget Industry » NAVSEA: 2,000 More Public Shipyard Workers Needed to Break Through Maintenance Backlog

NAVSEA: 2,000 More Public Shipyard Workers Needed to Break Through Maintenance Backlog

Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Nebraska (SSBN 739) undocks from a dry dock at Puget Sound Navy Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility on March 8, 2016. US Navy photo.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Despite a hiring push to increase the size of the workforce over the last several years, Naval Sea Systems Command is still short 2,000 workers in its public yards, the head of NAVSEA told lawmakers on Wednesday.

Vice Adm. Tom Moore told the Senate Armed Service subcommittee on readiness and management support that the Navy has seen the backlog of work in its public yards grow from 4.7 million man-days in 2011 to about 5.3 million man-days this year.

In 2015, NAVSEA had a goal of hiring up to 33,500 workers across its four public yards by the end of fiscal year 2016.

“Today, despite hiring 16,500 new workers since 2012, Naval shipyards are more than 2,000 people short of the capacity required to execute the projected workload,” read NAVSEA’s written testimony for the hearing.

The testimony said the shortage and the inexperience of the work force – half have less than five years of experience – have extended maintenance availabilities for attack and ballistic missile submarines and aircraft carriers to more than twice their planned length.

Maintenance backlogs have expanded due to increased operational tempo and the slowness of passing budgets, which further delays the yards’ ability to execute the work.

“The situation reached a boiling point this past summer, when in order to balance our workload the Navy decided to defer a scheduled maintenance availability on USS Boise (SSN-764) that will effectively take her offline until 2020 or later,” the testimony reads.

Following the hearing, Moore told USNI News that the additional personnel would begin the process of clearing backlog and move the service in a positive direction for ship repair.

“What we try and do is try and manage by rearranging schedules to fit what the fleet needs in terms of operational schedules, but eventually it’s an inefficient way to do the work,” Moore said.
“The current plan, if we can get to the 2,000 additional people we’d like to get to, that will stabilize. We won’t grow the backlog anymore, and out past fiscal year 2020 the workload drops off and we’ll eventually start working that backlog off in the future.”

Moore predicted if the yards get the needed workers the Navy could work off the backlog in maintenance by 2023.

  • Western

    V.E.T.E.R.A.N.S. Not rocket science. Hire some vets. Already have the skills, and known to work crazy hours for almost nothing.

    • Hugh

      and I did 50 years as a civilian naval engineer in Oz……

    • NavySubNuke

      Agreed. Though I wonder how much of the problem is getting people who are willing to stay and work at the shipyards themselves. The job market for experienced and proven maintainers is strong – particularly those with clean backgrounds and a good work ethic.
      I am also a little concerned that the way the navy has shifted all maintenance to shipyard workers has robbed us of our next generation of experienced shipyard talent. Certainly having guys who have been at sea and know what it means if they do a sh*tty job fixing the equipment is great —- but it is also great to add to that the experience of actually fixing it at sea.

      • Western

        Agree. When our boat went into the shipyard, we were not allowed to perform any maintenance. It was a perfect learning opportunity, but we were cut out.

      • Duane

        This is a problem we’re seeing in all areas of the economy – too many young people today expect to get a degree in liberal arts and then immediately land a six figure salary in the business world, while few can take the rigors of a STEM education, or care to work in highly skilled industrial settings like shipyards, construction, manufacturing and such. The employers of highly skilled workers and STEM grads have been complaining for years about vast numbers of these jobs going begging, while a lot of folks have completely left the work force.

        Our total unemployment today is hovering at around 4.7-4.8%. Despite all the Republican talking points the last few years, 5% used to be called – prior to the Great Recession – a “full employment economy”.

        Our real challenge today isn’t the total level of unemployment, but the fact that the jobs of today aren’t the jobs of 10 years ago, let alone 30 years ago. Geographic locations that used to have old tech factories have seen them shut down, and new highly automated factories have popped up in new places. Whereas 30 years ago the dominant manufacturing jobs in the Old South states were in textiles, today they’re building Mercedes Benz cars and Boeing 787s with robots. And the former workers in the depressed areas of the upper Midwest and Appalachia are not getting retrained and then “voting with their feet” to where the new jobs are coming online – they’re staying at home, literally, and ODing on pain pills and meth (both at epidemic levels today), or going on disability rolls.

        This is a humongous issue of social dislocation and disaffection … it’s also what drove today’s political populism, and the sense among many that they only lose today. It’s going to continue for the foreseeable future.

        Our schools and society in general should be doing a much better job of training the children and teenagers of today for the jobs of today and tomorrow, but they’re obviously lagging far behind. Expectations need adjustment – young people today are for the most part very unrealistic in what they expect to accomplish with minimally useful real world education.

        • old guy

          You overlook one aspect of the “unemployment” data. That is those who are not seeking or used up their unemployment are no longer counted, as they were 35 years ago. The true unemployment rate is 11,5%. if you count the people identified as “NOT seeking”

          • Duane

            There’s always been that number, it’s always been measured the same exact way for many decades.

            Apples to apples, this is a full employment economy today. But different kinds of people are employed at very different rates … for STEM grads, people with up to date technical skills, or people who work in areas like construction and modern manufacturing, the rates are far lower than 4.7%. The jobs are going begging. Too many people lack required skills, training, and education, however. The work place is changing far more rapidly than is the work force. Talk to any body in any of the modern economy workplaces and they all sing the same tune – can’t get enough qualified employees.

    • Duane

      The problem is, there just aren’t enough trained veterans with the necessary shipyard technical skills needed, and many if not most vets have their sights set on getting a degree and then working at a white collar job in industry. There may be lots of vets, but relatively few of them are qualified welders, pipefitters, electricians, and the such that are needed to build ships, as opposed to what is needed to operate ships.

  • Stephen

    Having observed the painful closure of the Mare Island Naval Shipyard. Seeing the motivated, highly professional workforce dispersed for cost-saving; political retribution. Granted, some key elements were preserved in other shipyards; but at what cost? The Overhaul/Modernization/Refueling teams maintained the highest levels of technical efficiency & tackled every project with budgetary restraint & scheduling at the forefront. Truly innovative research & development with ties to major universities & national labs; gone.

  • On Dre

    The SY treat workers like disposable cups. Use once then toss. What experienced electrician wants to hassle the parking and security issues only to get to a work site run by managers with the personality of an angry pitbull? They will find better work and leave the SY. Thus, the yards are left with an ever changing supply of low quality workers. Neither the worker or the yard see any reason to express loyalty to each other. The resulting work environment is adversarial.