Suffolk students targeted for shipyard jobs

Published 4:36 pm Saturday, April 28, 2012

At a career expo last Tuesday for high school students, a gentleman representing a member of the Virginia Ship Repair Foundation had some seemingly good news for Suffolk students fancying a well-paying career in the shipyards.

Mike Barclift, of Waddell & Reed Financial Advisors, was at the Suffolk Public Schools’ Advisory Council for Career and Technical Education (CTE) event representing the foundation. He told the students of the ship repair industry’s great need for keen young workers.

“There’s going to be a tremendous need for young people” in Virginia’s shipyards in the near future, he said.

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The average age of a shipyard worker is 52-55, he said, and with Congress cutting back on defense spending with wars in the Middle East continuing winding down, the Navy is expected to focus more in the future on repairing existing vessels, not building new ones.

“Our industry is adding 18,000 jobs in the next five years,” Virginia Ship Repair Association Director of Operations Michelle Tomaszewski said in an email. She added that the average ship repair worker earns about $3,000 more than the average workers in Hampton Roads.

“Our industry trains its employees, so a young person without college experience can enter a trade and gain training and skills on the job.”

The association’s 230 member companies represent a diverse range of industries, Tomaszewski said, such as the finance sector Barclift works in.

The association represents seven shipyards employing over 40,000 people.

One role of the association has been to reach out to Hampton Roads schools in order to attract the new recruits needed to fulfill its members’ future needs.

“Every year we attend the annual Suffolk schools career expo where we bring information to students on the jobs we have in Hampton Roads,” Tomaszewski said, adding that foundation volunteers conduct mock interviews and encourage students to apply to foundation apprenticeship schools, as well as trades positions.

“This year we attended Forest Glen Middle School for a career day (and) in the past we have visited King’s Fork High School, the Pruden Center, John Yeates (Middle School) and Lakeland High School.”

John Yeates and King’s Fork middle schools have fielded teams in the foundation’s annual Ship Repair Industry Awareness LEGO Competition, in which students use LEGO Digital Designer software to design a ship, portion of a ship or ship component being repaired in Hampton Roads.

“This year their budget situation hindered them from pursuing participation,” Tomaszewski said. “We are working to get more company sponsors so these schools can join us again next year.”