ARLINGTON, Va. – Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro suggested changes in immigration laws and policies for visas could open a new avenue to build up the workforce in the nation’s public and private shipyards.
“We need to do a lot more to get the kind of workers we need in our shipyards,” he told attendees at a National Defense Industrial Association Expeditionary Warfare conference last week.
Del Toro, using his own family as an example of coming to the United States in 1962 from Cuba, said that the open-door policy for refugees led him to join the Navy out of a sense of gratitude. He graduated from the Naval Academy and served 22 years before retiring. He added other first-generation and second-generation immigrants to America feel the same way and could be attracted to careers in public service in uniform or in the defense industrial base.
The U.S. needs more blue-collar workers, Del Toro said. New arrivals with these skill sets could fill the gap, he said, mentioning changes in immigration policy concerning Venezuelans.
The Department of Homeland Security announced the change in mid-October which included expanding and expediting the immigration process. Requirements include having a sponsor prepared to cover financial costs, passing several security tests and proof of vaccination. The administration may broaden the Venezuelan initiative to migrants from other nations.
At some conference on expeditionary warfare, Vice Adm. Bill Galinis, who leads Naval Sea Systems Command, praised Southern New England’s Team Subs program to attract and retain more men and women to the skilled trades.
He noted the increased shipbuilding demand at General Dynamics Electric Boat in an accelerated Virginia-class construction program and continuing work to keep the first Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine on schedule.
“Fourteen hundred have been trained in the shipbuilding trade,” Galinis said. He added this program led by Electric Boat is also paying dividends at the Navy’s Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and also at Bath Iron Works, builder of guided-missile destroyers.
“More work needs to be done on the surface side,” he said, citing manufacturing-training pipelines in Philadelphia and Hampton Roads as examples of what can be done.
Offering more promise in meeting this demand lies in the Pentagon’s and Navy’s Accelerated Training in Defense Manufacturing in Danville, Va., Galinis said.
“The focus is primarily on the trades we need … high-end trades” like welding, he said.
So far the 16-week program has produced 100 certified workers in skills like additive manufacturing, CNC machining [controlling tools in milling and other precise work] and quality control inspection, in addition to welding. The goal is to produce 800 to 1,000 annually, starting in 2024, Galinis said. The program is aimed at attracting workers from other jobs and can offer applicants room and board during the training.
“This is an ‘All Hands on Deck’ endeavor, and ensuring we have a ready and capable workforce is at the top of the list in things we must get right,” Galinis said at the opening of the Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence in Danville in October.
Brig. Gen. David Walsh, who heads the Marine Corps Systems Command, agreed with the others that “our blue-collar workforce is our number one priority.” But he added the Marines are also concerned about renewing its technical, engineering and contracting workforces as retirements take hold.
“They don’t get paid the most” when compared to private industry, Walsh said, but there are other factors like sense of mission and accomplishment that come into play when seeking new workers and keeping those with special training and skills.