Marine industry must attract workers, boost training, group says

The aging marine industry was a hot topic of conversation at a recent Gulf States Shipbuilders Consortium meeting held in Ocean Springs, Miss.

“We have an aging population [in the marine industry]with fewer young people,” John Lotshaw, chairman, National Maritime Education Council (NMEC) and director of workforce training and development at Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding, Pascagoula, Miss., said at the meeting. “We’re making progress in getting the word out about the industry, but we have to make more progress.”

Ingalls announced recently that it will close its Gulfport, Miss., composites facility due to reductions in the Navy’s Zumwalt-class destroyer program and declining Navy use for composite products. The closure is expected in May 2014.

The company said the closure would cost approximately $59 million and affect 427 employees either through headcount reductions or transfers, according to Huntington Ingalls. Laid-off workers are expected to be offered opportunities at the Pascagoula facility.

Lotshaw said the NMEC came about in an effort to develop and sustain a national workforce program. This includes funding the development and establishment of a foundation for a formal workforce development system by creating a standardized curriculum in three areas — shipfitting/welding, pipefitting and electrical.

Such a standardized curriculum would create a shipyard worker with the basic skills to work anywhere in the U.S. “We have to do a better job of training the people we already have working for us,” said Lotshaw.

“Workforce training begins as soon as we get kids into our public school system,” Mississippi’s Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves told the group, “and we’re investing in our community colleges.”

John Pendergast, executive vice president, VT Halter Marine, spoke to the group about the importance of workforce development from a business owner’s perspective. VT Halter has its own training center.

“With training, development and mentoring, you can develop young folks,” he said. “We really push on-the-job training.”

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