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by Bill Woodbridge, NAVSEA 04X

As this issue of Undersea Warfare Magazine highlights the Naval Shipyards, we held a Q&A session with Mr. Jim Wrzeski. He is the Senior Executive for NAVSEA’s Headquarters Management Group for the Naval Shipyards.

Mr. Jim Wrzeski was selected to the Senior Executive Service (SES) when he was chosen as the Nuclear Engineering and Planning Manager at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in May 2003. There, he was responsible for all nuclear propulsion plant maintenance on the West Coast and the nuclear propulsion plant maintenance capability at Yokosuka, Japan. Before his selection to SES, Mr. Wrzeski served as the Shipyard’s Head Nuclear Engineer, the Nuclear Refueling Engineering Division Head, the Reactor Compartment Disposal Division Head, and the Nuclear Facilities and Equipment Manager.

Early in his Shipyard career, Mr. Wrzeski attended and graduated from the Bettis Reactor Engineering School in West Mifflin, Pa., near Pittsburgh. Mr. Wrzeski also graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Q: We often talk about the tip of the spear and our deployed forces, but you work in an area that many of us don’t think about that often. Tell us what’s important about our naval shipyards and how they help the Submarine Force.

A: First, the naval shipyards ensure that, when our Navy’s ships are deployed to sea, they are ready to meet the demands of their mission.

The four naval shipyards (Portsmouth, Norfolk, Puget Sound, and Pearl Harbor) are vital for fleet operational availability and mission success. They have the essential capability to do all types of depot- and intermediate-level maintenance, to do modernizations and emergency repair work, and to do inactivations on nuclear-powered submarines.

To meet their mission, the naval shipyards need a highly qualified and skilled workforce. These dedicated men and woman are the backbone of the naval shipyards. We’re focused on keeping and maintaining that workforce by providing our men and women with the training and tools that they need for their job.

We are also keen on revitalizing the workforce. Due to the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, several naval shipyards were closed during the 1990s. Coupled with declining workload because of the reduced number of ships, the number of shipyard workers dropped dramatically. What has happened over the years as a consequence is that the average age and number of years’ experience of the shipyard workers are decreasing/getting lower, which reinforces the need to invest in training and development.

Q: What are you doing about that age gap?

A: A huge part of workforce revitalization is our apprentice programs, as we need to continue hiring at least 100 new apprentices annually at each naval shipyard. Maintaining viable trade skill apprentice programs is an important lesson learned from the late 1990s. The apprentice programs are the vital source for hiring and training the skilled workforce. The four-year apprentice program includes academic studies and trade theory curriculum. We also have individualized on-the-job learning objectives defined for each unique trade discipline. As part of these efforts, I’m proud that we’ve had two of our naval shipyard programs recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor as Registered Apprenticeship Trailblazers and Innovators. These apprentice programs were recognized as being in the top 70 programs of the more than 25,000 apprentice programs registered with the Department of Labor.

Apprentice graduation
The Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility (PHNSY & IMF)
Apprentice Program is a successful partnership between the Shipyard, the
U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), and Honolulu Community College (HCC).
Graduating Apprentices earn an Associate’s Degree in Applied Trades and a
certificate from the DOL.

In San Diego, Calif., the Navy has completed the third year of the Cooperative Apprentice Program. This program is led by Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and supports a partnership with Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNSY), the Southwest Regional Maintenance Center, and the Naval Air Systems Command depots in the San Diego area that handle the Navy’s maintenance workload. The program seeks to produce highly skilled tradespeople who can execute the Navy’s technical maintenance needs to meet readiness requirements today and who will fulfill key supervisory and managerial positions in the future. It’s a great example of efficient investment in workforce development as it partners across multiple commands to build a quality workforce for today and lay the foundation of a longer-term investment in prospective leaders needed for the future.

In addition to the apprentice program, the shipyards have trade development programs where helpers are provided on-the-job training. The helpers receive limited academic training, safety and trade technical training, and may attend additional academics classes on their own time. Successful helpers may apply to become apprentices or advance to intermediate and journey levels if they complete trade, academic training, and on-the-job work experience. We’ve found that the apprenticeship completion rates have improved for the shipyards that use these formal helper programs.

Our workforce revitalization initiatives are key to keeping a workforce with the balance of skills that we need. Looking ahead, the skill mix will be adjusted for new technologies, which will likely create a higher demand for electrical and electronics skills. Each fiscal year, naval shipyards use demographic data along with attrition history at the trade skill/ skill code level to project estimated workforce requirements. Hiring plans are then based on the trade and support levels given the current workforce and the forecasted workload.

Q: What have the naval shipyards done for training the workforce on Virginia-class maintenance and repair work?

A: New skills are always required for new weapons systems, such as the Virginia-class fast attack submarine. To start with, we worked with the private sector to develop training for the shipyard workforce. This involved familiarizing shipyard personnel with the differences between 688 and Virginia-class subs. Specifically, training modules were developed and instructors traveled to each shipyard to reach the maximum number of shipyard personnel with these modules.

Portsmouth and Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyards partnered on the first two Extended Drydocking Selected Restricted Availabilities (EDSRAs) on the USS Virginia (SSN 774) and USS Texas (SSN 775). Together they worked on identifying unique equipment and upgrades needed to support the availabilities. Additionally, Pearl sent over 100 employees to work with Portsmouth on Virginia, and Portsmouth has done the same for Texas at Pearl. PNSY passed many lessons learned from the Virginia to the Texas project, including the establishment of a process for purchasing material directly from Electric Boat if the Navy’s supply system could not support requests for material. Portsmouth also partnered on training opportunities at Electric Boat during the initial planning phase. Portsmouth workers went to Electric Boat to observe construction of the submarine and get classroom instruction on its unique systems.

The ship’s force also plays a vital role in the success of an availability. Acknowledging this has led to ensuring that the qualifications for the Limited Duty Officer for an availability are now spelled out in the Baseline Project Management Plan. This ensures that the officer has the necessary training to be an effective interface between the crew and the shipyard workforce. The submarine community has further intergrated ship’s force in the preplanning of availabilities with an addition to the integrated project team training. This is a two-day event with selected members of the core project team and the ward room of the boat. This part of the training is to discuss the expectations of the crew and to explain what the crew can expect from the shipyard. These discussions are meant to sketch out the road ahead and to work out compromises and detail any agreements reached. The biggest takeaway from this event is the building of a relationship that provides the backbone for communication throughout the availability.

Q: What else comes into play when you’re looking at revitalizing the workforce at the naval shipyards?

A: I’d say that the next vital piece for revitalizing the workforce involves giving them the tools to do their job. In part, this means that we need to maintain or upgrade the infrastructure of our naval shipyards— the dry docks, shop buildings, and cranes and other heavy equipment that are the everyday tools of the workforce.

Much of the infrastructure of the naval shipyards was designed for World War II-era ship construction rather than nuclear-powered ship-repair processes. Also, the overall condition/configuration of this infrastructure is below the Navy average. This reduces their efficiency in repairing today’s ships.
In April 2013, we delivered a report to Congress titled Investment Plan for the Modernization of the Naval Shipyards. The infrastructure plan focuses resources against needs. It takes a hard look at existing maintenance and recapitalization backlogs in each shipyard’s infrastructure. We want to ensure the long-term mission effectiveness of the naval shipyards by focusing on five key areas of infrastructure to maintain the requisite depot maintenance capabilities:

The industrial equipment used by our skilled labor force is critical to the success of the naval shipyards. The shipyard Capital Investment Program (CIP) is part of that success. It plans, develops, and executes industrial plant equipment projects, information technology, and personal property projects that cost more than $250,000. These projects maintain, modernize, and improve the infrastructure and industrial base capabilities at the naval shipyards.