Apprenticeships key to future of region and the Navy

by Charles W. Haskett IV

The Reshoring Initiative in collaboration with the Association for Manufacturing Excellence is leading a manufacturing renaissance to re-energize advanced manufacturing careers through the deployment of apprenticeship programs. These programs can be a key to replenishing the talent pipeline with skilled career-ready citizens to sustain good-paying advanced manufacturing careers while bringing manufacturing back home. Learn how apprentice programs are making a difference in Virginia shipbuilding:

The retirement era of the baby-boom generation is upon us, and the effects are already being felt. As a child, I was instilled with the belief that college was the key to a successful career. However, when high school graduation arrived, I knew I didn’t want to go to college right away. In fact, I didn’t know what I wanted to do.

I spent the next five years working various jobs and not taking life too seriously. I eventually realized that I couldn’t continue on this path forever. In 2013, I ran into a friend of mine whom I hadn’t seen in many years. Little did I know at the time that interaction was the start of a now decades-old career decision.

For the next four years, I worked under him as a machinist apprentice. During my four-year apprenticeship at Tecnico Corporation, a ship repair contractor for the U.S. Navy in Hampton Roads, I gained practical skills and knowledge in machining through on-the-job training and coursework at Tidewater Community College. My experience as a machinist apprentice equipped me with the knowledge and skills needed to produce exceptional craftsmanship. With guaranteed raises every six months, I was able to earn a salary comparable to that of a college graduate without the burden of student debt. Now, I am pursuing a degree at Old Dominion University with the help of my company's tuition reimbursement policy. Joining the apprenticeship program was one of the best decisions of my life.

Over the last 20 years, colleges have produced twice the amount of degrees as there are open positions. This has led to more than 40% of graduates being underemployed. Twenty-eight percent of recent college graduates are working in jobs that only require a high school diploma. With the rising cost of college, stagnant wages and the highest inflation rates we have seen in more than 40 years, more people with bachelor’s degrees are going back to school to learn a skilled trade. Somewhere along the line, it became ingrained that in order for your children to succeed, they had to go to college.

According to local senior military officials, their No. 1 strategic challenge is hiring and retaining skilled employees. At the end of 2022, the Navy was short 1,200 employees in civilian-sector positions. This doesn’t include the thousands of other open positions at private ship repair companies. Maintenance delays per ship have increased significantly since 2011, with the average duration rising from five days to 19 days in 2021. Additionally, maintenance costs have surged by $1.2 billion during the same period. The current state of affairs with China and Russia raises the need for more skilled labor in the shipyard, and there is more of a demand now than since the Cold War. Norfolk Naval Shipyard and Newport News Shipbuilding are offering cash bonuses to new employees.

For young parents such as myself, it’s time we encourage our children to give serious consideration to skilled labor positions — and apprenticeships are the best way to achieve that. There are many types of apprenticeships, especially in ship repair. There are machinists, welders, pipefitters, structural and many others. The salary in the ship repair industry is great, and the benefits are even better. A first-class mechanic averages about $30 an hour and receives health, dental and optical insurance. If you have young kids, I encourage you to join me by letting them know it’s OK to put on work boots every morning and get their hands a little dirty.

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Charles W. Haskett IV is a ship repair estimator and journeyman machinist with nearly a decade of experience in the naval ship repair industry. He now is a senior at Old Dominion University, pursuing a major in business.

The article was originally published on The Virginian-Pilot & Daily Press Opinion page. Here's the link:

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Glenn Marshall, the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) Management Team leads an initiative for a “Manufacturing Renaissance,” member of the Reshoring Initiative, Job Creators Network, and Industry Reimagined 2030. Contact and

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