Navy continues to address submarine workforce challenges

Facing a construction boon over the next 15 years, the Navy is trying to increase the submarine workforce. Its Submarine Industrial Base program team opened its third year of its talent pipeline program, which comes at a crucial time with submarine industrial base challenges, workforce shortages and the new partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States (AUKUS), which, in part, focuses on delivering new submarines.

The 2023-2024 Talent Pipeline Program includes a series of workforce trade skill events held on the East Coast. The events were held at maritime centers including Philadelphia, Hampton Roads, Va., Pittsburgh, Boston and Long Island, N.Y. The latter two locations are new for the program. The Navy partnered with industry to launch the next talent pipeline program.

The program will help Submarine Industrial Base employers hire and retain employees with critical skills by connecting with career and technical training providers and job-seeking students.

“We need you. We need all of you,” Stephanie Link, executive director at the Program Executive Office for Attack Submarines, said to pipeline participants at the Long Island orientation event about America’s submarine force’s critical mission. “Without a trained and talented workforce who understands the mission and wants to participate, we’re not going to meet demand. And I don’t think that in this threat landscape we can risk that.”

The program comes at a time when the Navy and the industrial base has a workforce shortage. The Submarine Industrial Base will need to hire 100,000 new skilled trade workers in the submarine industrial base over the next 10 years, according to the Navy.

“The submarine industrial base workforce shortage is a national problem,” John Polowczyk, an executive director at Ernst and Young who was formerly a White House supply chain lead and Joint Chiefs of Staff vice director for logistics, told Federal News Network. “The submarine community and the broader defense industrial base are facing several challenges, including: increased operational demands globally, uncertain fiscal future and deduced supply of talent.”

Polowczyk said, “to address these challenges, the Navy and the Submarine Industrial Base must invest in transformative initiatives to increase the supply of blue collar workers, retain the workforce and improve their productivity.”

The Talent Pipeline Program could be one way to accomplish this. It will help suppliers in the Submarine Industrial Base create the necessary workforce to support the Navy’s construction of a Columbia Class submarine and two Virginia Class submarines by fiscal 2026 as part of the Navy’s demand signal to the Submarine Industrial Base.

The 2022-2023 Talent Pipeline Project had more than 700 new workforce members participate in the program. The Navy is working to build off of last year’s success with the most recent program. The Navy asks for individuals and suppliers located near the aforementioned maritime centers to participate in the program and attend its events.

The program is one of many efforts the Navy is taking to bolster the Submarine Industrial Base. For example, it partnered with non-profit Blue Forge Alliance and invested at least $200 million in 2023 to support the industrial base and implement workforce development initiatives. It also has a website to help with recruitment.

“The Department of the Navy is on a mission to make ship and submarine manufacturing a preferred profession again and it is a national imperative,” Erik Raven, undersecretary of the Navy, Vice Adm. William Houston, commander of the Naval Submarine Forces and Rear Adm. Jonathan Rucker, program executive officer of Attack Submarines, said in a joint statement.

The Navy is not the only one in government trying to support the Submarine Industrial Base. In October, the White House approved supplemental funding with $3.4 billion going to the Submarine Industrial Base and AUKUS.

The White House statement said the funding will support the “United States’ Submarine Industrial Base, through improvements and infrastructure work at the Navy’s four public shipyards and increasing production rates and submarine availability through initiatives in supplier development, shipbuilder and supplier infrastructure, workforce development, technology advancements, government oversight and strategic sourcing. This funding will accelerate build and sustainment rates for attack submarines, one of our most effective capabilities for maintaining deterrence, in order to meet U.S. military requirements.”

This will also help the U.S. meet its commitments under AUKUS to help Australia obtain conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines.

“Inclusion of submarine industrial base funds is a welcome start to the process of fortifying our submarine maintenance and production capabilities, but it cannot stop here,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). “As I have repeatedly said, our shipyards are under-resourced to meet the Navy’s urgent submarine requirements as well as meet the prospective demands of the AUKUS agreement. We must work to signal to both our allies and U.S. industry that we can meet the obligations of the AUKUS agreement without putting our own submarine fleet in jeopardy.”

An October House Armed Services Committee hearing discussed how the submarine industrial base can help support AUKUS. Several witnesses emphasized the importance of the industrial base and fortifying the workforce to support Navy goals, including AUKUS.

“The US Submarine Force and our Submarine Industrial Base are crucial to the security of our Nation, and maintaining overmatch in the Undersea Warfare domain is one of the top priorities in the Department of Defense,” Raven, Houston and Rucker, said in a joint statement. “The recapitalization of the US Submarine Force, plus the investment in AUKUS, requires continued and significant investments in US facilities, infrastructure and workforce. Our SIB recapitalization effort creates large numbers of hands-on jobs across the nation. Targeted workforce growth includes, but is not limited to trades, supporting disciplines and STEM.”

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