Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75)

By Ben Enman, November 11, 2019

Staffing at the shipyards in Hampton Roads, Norfolk and around the U.S. should continue to rise if current building plans released by the Department of Defense are confirmed. The U.S. Navy released its 2020 shipbuilding plan that forecasts a target of 355 battle force ships.

To do so, the Navy said in its report that it would buy 304 new ships that would be completed by 2034. Even given current decommissioning schedules, that would still increase the current allotment by 65 ships, mainly combat but also logistic and support vessels. A recent Congressional Budget Office report underpinned the expected plans, with some differences in expected costs.

Whether the funding hews more closely to what the U.S. Navy estimates or the less optimistic CBO projections, it would still require 10 new ships per year at an average cost of $2 billion to $3 billion. The threat of various state actors and the ability for the Navy to provide force projection ahead of other service branches had led to an increase in budgeting compared to other administrations.

Major Class Upgrades Will Drive U.S. Navy Shipbuilding Needs

Even as some naval officers have told Congress and the CBO that the overall allocations may change, the effect on the shipbuilding industry would likely be minimal. The Nimitz aircraft carriers must be phased out in favor of the Gerald R. Ford class, of which another 10 must be built or are under construction. Similarly, the Virginia-class attack submarines, replacing the venerable Los Angeles subs, are still being built.

Other major outlays are coming for the ballistic missile submarines, or “boomers”, that would start being purchased in 2021, with the Columbia class replacing the Ohio class. As a whole, most of the Navy’s fleet is in significant transition among capital warships, requiring billions of dollars in investments in shipbuilding.

Autonomous Battle Platforms Could Offset Any Reductions

While Fiscal Year 2020’s plans largely maintain the expected manned platform goals, the Department of Defense also noted in its report that there are separate discussions about the use of autonomous vehicles for various future needs. This is in fact true of the entire transportation industry, with some experts noting that long-haul trucking and the rail industry are likely to see rampant automation.

People need to help build these high-tech conveyances to exacting tolerances. Whether the ultimate buyer is the navy or a fleet carrier like UPS, there is still a significant need for employees who can work on complex systems in fabrication and assembly.

Shipyards Continue to Buttress Outlook for Machinists

The Bureau of Labor Statistics regularly releases its Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) for a variety of fields. The outlook for machinists is largely stable, with some initial concerns about how fabricators and other workers would find their prospects moving forward.

The consistency in defense spending, especially the Navy’s commitment to such a large degree can help to offset this. However, workers will need to be able to work with people who can offer them the placements in these still-growing sectors to take advantage of the FY 2020 plans.

Learn More About Skilled Trades Opportunities Today

The slots for working in shipyards and employers in the skilled trades field can be highly competitive. Work with a staffing agency with decades of experience that can help place you in the position that helps you and your future employer succeed. Contact a team member at Ameri-Force today or review our current openings to learn more.


Ben Enman is the Director of Sales for Ameri-Force. Ben has worked in the maritime industry since 2011 and is well-known among the nation’s leading ship builders. Ben gained field experience as a Regional Manager overseeing several branch locations and has traveled the nation as Director of Sales since 2018.

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