NEWS | Aug. 24, 2021

NSWC Philadelphia Division Hosts Talent Acquisition and Retention Training Workshop for Pennsylvania Pipeline Project: Philadelphia Region Workforce Pilot

By Gary Ell

Naval Surface Warfare Center, Philadelphia Division (NSWCPD) hosted a training workshop for the Pennsylvania Pipeline Project: Philadelphia Region Workforce Pilot on Aug. 4, 2021.

The Philadelphia Pipeline Program Director Joe Barto from the Training Modernization Group (TMG), Inc. kicked off the session by stating that the joint maritime ecosystem has been challenged with workforce sustainability.

“We must use this Pipeline collaborative to engage the greater Philadelphia region economy by creating and sustaining a maritime and defense industrial base-focused workforce pipeline that enables employers to re-capitalize their workforce through recruiting, hiring, training, and retaining skilled workforce members with critical trade skills,” Barto said.

The five-hour training session served as a preparation for the official Philadelphia Region Workforce Pilot implementation scheduled for fall 2021. These same pipeline efforts would then be expanded throughout the state.

With stakeholders representing the U.S. Navy, private industry, technical universities and other key parties, the training afforded participants the opportunity to learn industry-wide best practices and lessons learned to improve the performance of talent acquisition and retention systems. Participants also developed a workforce improvement plan to take back to their leadership teams, learning how to take advantage of available resources to identify and mine the most valuable talent pipelines within their organizations.

To better understand and address common challenges and issues, the Shipbuilding Industrial Base Task Force within the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) has been collaborating with the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment (IBAS) program to work with the government-industry base. In addition, over the past several months defense stakeholders, regional supply chains, as well as state and local government organizations have been engaged.

“The primary focus of the PA Pipeline Program is assisting participating employers in improving the performance of their talent acquisition and retention systems. If they do not change the way they acquire and retain talent, no pipeline program will help them. This training is for and about the employers and gives them the knowledge to better understand the current labor market and how they can adjust their internal systems then create the talent pipelines to meet their needs,” Barto explained.

During the training session, representatives from companies spanning Pennsylvania addressed the challenges facing the industry. Hiring new and skilled employees requires innovative approaches to overcome inefficiencies in the technical trade workforce. The overlap of desired skillsets into adjacent career fields, compounded by high rates of attrition, have created the exact set of circumstances that require urgent action.

Presenters included Vice President, Delaware County Community College, Dr. Karen Kozachyn, representing the Collegiate Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development. She offered guidance and tips about why it is important for defense companies to partner with community colleges.

“Delaware County Community College, not unlike community colleges across the nation, develops and delivers programs that reflect the needs of our local industries. Community colleges maintain relationships with employers, industry organizations, organized labor, and workforce and economic development organizations throughout a region,” Kozachyn said.

“Employers are an important part of a community college’s strength in technical program offerings. They serve as adjunct faculty to offer the authenticity to classroom and laboratory experiences,” she added. “Employers participate on active advisory boards to ensure relevance of curriculum, identify needs in the workplace, provide counsel and assistance in acquiring state-of-the-art equipment, offer internships and other work-based experiences, provide scholarships to assist low-income students, and hire graduates.”

Representing the School District of Philadelphia, Melodee Jackson gave an overview of the Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs currently offered within the district. She stated that there are over 120 CTE programs currently offered in over 30 high schools in the district. For the Pipeline project, she focused on and highlighted the existing programs including carpentry, electrical and power transmission installation, precision machine tool technology, construction technology, facility maintenance and welding technology, a pipeline of programs that could be harnessed by the maritime industrial workforce.

The Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN) also participated in the session. Director, Partnerships for Employment Pathways, Festo Okidi provided a presentation on harnessing the potential of the emerging workforce. Their vision is to alleviate poverty and promote equity through education and employment.

During her presentation, Okidi said, “Preparing young people for the future of work is going to be critical to our economic recovery. The pandemic has accelerated our shift; the future of work is now. Automation and technology were already influencing the economic needs and employer expectations for perspective employees. As we respond to the disruption the pandemic created, our understanding of the work paradigm has changed forever.”

Okidi continued with some sobering statistics of what PYN is learning:

“The workforce of ‘yesterday’ is gone. At PYN, post-pandemic work has changed and grown the way we accomplish goals. Experts predict economic loss will erase a decade of progress for reconnection to school/work, especially for young workers. Our consumers –young people -- have changed, and their needs and expectations have amplified. Moving to virtual and mobile options will take time. Gen-Z spends 4.25 hours/day on phones. Competition for talent has increased, at least in the short term. This could impact program retention.”

Okidi stated that last summer PYN paid over $4.6 million in youth wages and incentives, but struggling families continue to increase demand for services.

“Companies need to have clear ended goals; they need to support ongoing youth development and invest in supervisor and mentor training. Companies need to have a plan for difficult situations along with an experience-structure and comprehensive orientation program. Employees need feedback and acknowledgment to develop and succeed in a modern workforce,” she said.

The training session culminated with a presentation and tour of the Philadelphia Shipyard by the company’s Vice President of Human Resources Mike Giantomaso.

“The Philly Shipyard is an essential part of the industrial base,” Giantomaso stated, explaining that his organization is a leading U.S. shipbuilder presently pursuing a mix of commercial and government work, ranging from shipbuilding to repair maintenance.

Giantomaso added, “As a leading commercial shipbuilder; the shipyard delivered greater than 50 percent of all U.S. Jones Act, large ocean-going commercial vessels since 2003. One of the most modern shipyards in the U.S., the Philly Shipyard has demonstrated efficiency, quality, productivity and safety. Sustaining 1,200 skilled manufacturing jobs and with an ongoing investment in workforce development, the shipyard has the potential to add another 400-800 jobs with proposed CapEx investments.”

With plenty of opportunities for growth at the Philly Shipyard, building the pipeline is imperative. “We’re getting back to our roots. Shipbuilding is fascinating and totally consuming. You start with a piece of steel and then before you know it, it’s floating out of here. There’s nothing like it,” Giantomaso said.

Training Modernization Group (TMG), Inc., in support of the NAVSEA Shipbuilding Industrial Base Task has the overall lead. The two-year Pilot Program was kicked off in May 2021 at NSWCPD with 2021-2022 being the recruiting and hiring year and 2022-2023 being the first year, retention year.

"After all, it is not how many employers hire. It is about how many employers keep as productive and engaged teammates," said Barto.