Navy to shift workers to meet shortfall in high-skilled positions

Navy officials plan to step up efforts to move around workers with highly technical skills in order to keep on top of construction and maintenance demands, officials with the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) said Thursday.

The service needs to change its personnel practices due to a "critical shortfall" of highly- skilled workers to build, repair and maintain ships, said Rear Adm. William Klemm, deputy commander of NAVSEA's logistics, maintenance and industrial operations directorate.

"I don't think people realize how delicate [the workforce] is," he said. "Skill sets are down to the last numbers in some the effective and efficient utilization of those skill sets is what we're driving to."

The Navy will tap military and civilian workers with advanced skills at its four shipyards in Portsmouth, N.H.; Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Bremerton, Wash.; and Portsmouth, Va., and at its two largest commercial shipyards-General Dynamics' Electric Boat division in Groton, Conn., and Northrop Grumman's Newport News, Va., unit.

Under the Navy's Fleet Readiness Plan, the service is moving from a "rotational force" to a "surge force." Klemm said maintaining a surge force requires the Navy to identify the key tasks that need done-regardless of where they are in the world-and then quickly deploy the right workers with the right skills. He added that planning and execution of such shifts would need to be done "within very short time windows."

"I'm not going to do more maintenance, but rather focus on the key maintenance jobs that must get done," he said. "This is not a mass movement of workforce; this is a very targeted movement of skill sets."

He added that it takes six to eight years to train workers in advanced construction and maintenance skills.

"You can't grow them on trees and you can't hire them overnight," he said. "We will be dealing with what we have for the foreseeable future."

The Navy also plans to use distance support more than ever to help solve maintenance and repair problems without having to deploy personnel. Distance support allows personnel around the world to contact a central location for help. The service is striving to have "on-demand" training and respond to requests for help within 24 hours, said Rear Adm. Paul Sullivan, NAVSEA's deputy commander for ship design, integration and engineering.

"It used to be your request would come into NAVSEA and you weren't sure if anybody heard you," he said.

In the future, the service may also be able to tap highly skilled workers in other industries for help, Klemm added. For example, as the Navy integrates technology developed for aircraft, it can seek help from workers in the aviation industry.