Investment needed for jobs boost

Published 10:41 pm Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Newport News Shipbuilding last month announced it would hire as many as 7,000 new shipbuilders throughout the next five years.

Large hiring announcements — and large layoff announcements — are nothing new at such large employers that deal in large government contracts such as those required to build aircraft carriers and other warships. The ebb and flow of this work is a fact of life for these companies, their workers and the surrounding communities.

However, any job, for however long it lasts, is good news, and jobs in the skilled trades tend to be high-paying and have good benefits. Chances are good that many folks from Suffolk will be able to take some of these new jobs at the shipyard.

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But in order for the local workforce to meet the demands of Newport News Shipbuilding, it will take investment from the state through the community college system and other agencies.
The Apprentice School at Newport News Shipbuilding has a limited number of apprenticeships available each year, so any boost the rest of the community can provide toward training people for these shipyard jobs will be beneficial.

The community college system is the best resource the state has for workforce development and should be able to quickly ramp up its offerings to accommodate the needs of Newport News Shipbuilding. Digital shipbuilding technology along with the traditional trades is a new area of training that even current employees will need to learn along with new employees.

A new state initiative called Build Virginia will also focus on connecting jobseekers and employers in the shipbuilding industry before expanding to other industries.

Private investment from companies like Suffolk’s Mills Marine and Ship Repair LLC, founded by Donald Mills in 2009, also is necessary. His company seeks competent and capable workers to help fulfill the contract work it does with Newport News Shipbuilding, and he’s also willing to give folks a second chance whose history, such as a criminal record, may preclude them from getting a job with the shipyard.

The opportunities in this jobs announcement are many, and it will take local and state governments as well as the private sector working together to ensure local workers can take advantage of them.