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Building warships


WORLD Radio - Building warships

Employees at Ingalls Shipyard take pride in building ships to protect the freedoms of the United States and the rest of the world

Ingalls Shipyard James Edward Bates/Genesis Photos

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Thursday, April 25th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown.

REICHARD: Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Shipbuilding. The U.S. military is dependent on ships, cutters, and destroyers for our defense.

Shipbuilding requires all sorts of craftsmen, many who stick with their jobs for a lifetime. WORLD Senior Writer Kim Henderson brings us this report.

AUDIO: [Sound of machinery]

KIM HENDERSON: Shipbuilding is a way of life on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. For the next generation of shipbuilders, it often starts in the apprentice school at Ingalls Shipyard. Here, in the pipe-fitting lab.

HUDSON: Their tolerances are so tight—we're talking 1 one-thousandths of an inch tolerance. So they have to make sure that everything is precise . . .

That’s Doug Hudson. He’s the manager of workforce training at Ingalls, a shipyard with more than 11,000 employees. He depends on the apprentice school to produce needed painters, carpenters, electricians, joiners, machinists, welders, riggers, and more.

Hudson has been at Ingalls more than 30 years. Painting Instructor Malcolm Hubbard has, too.

HUBBARD: I came here as a young man. I wanted a career. So I got a career, and I stayed with it.

It’s Hubbard’s job to teach apprentices why a ship needs 25 layers of paint before it’s seaworthy. It’s also his job to teach them that this work matters.

HUBBARD: A lot of these ships you see on the news that's been on a conflict over in Iraq or some place, and you see your work and workmanship on that TV and you're proud to see that as a worker, as an Ingalls employee.

Hubbard was at Ingalls in 2000 when the USS Cole returned for repairs. It had a gaping hole in its side, the result of a terrorist bombing in Yemen.

HUBBARD: We stood out on the dock and watched it come in, thinking about the people that lost their lives on there, the young men and women that served on there. We tried to put it back fast as we could because we knew it had to go back out there and serve our country again.

From miles away, cars on Highway 90 can easily see the outline of Ingalls Shipyard. Huge cranes tower over huge metal buildings. Partly constructed ships sit on land, while others float in the Pascagoula River.

HUDSON: You see that large white bridge crane right there, that's our steel yard. That's where the raw steel comes in as plates. So that's where the construction of the ship starts from.

The whole shipyard is set up as a process flow. It goes downstream all the way to the water.

Shipbuilding is often hot, gritty work. It’s hard hats and heavy boots. Ingalls Human Resources VP Susan Jacobs says that can make it a hard sell.

JACOBS: When I was in school, I think more people grew up mowing their grass and changing their tires and understanding how to use hand tools.

Now it’s a digital world. But ships still need to be built.

JACOBS: What we do here, I believe is, I think we build freedom. You know, the ships we build ensure that not only the United States, but the rest of the world, because the rest of the world depends on us, right? Like it or not, they depend on us.

Staffing shortages at shipyards can affect national security. Here’s Ingalls vice president, Donny Dorsey.

DORSEY: Look, we're building warships. They have a schedule. You need only turn the news on tonight and watch it and you'll understand why they're in a hurry to get these ships. So we're a function of that.

Dorsey says there’s good money to be made in this industry.

DORSEY: The quickest way to a 6-figure salary is to come work for me, get 12 to 14 weeks of training, dedicate yourself, come to work, develop your skills, advance through the steps, and pretty soon you're at a 6-figure career.

How soon is pretty soon?

DORSEY: In three years, you'll be there.

Millennials are sometimes called the “job-hopping generation.” For Ingalls retirees like Frederick Mitchell, that way of life is hard to understand.

MITCHELL: I worked at the shipyard 41 years and started right out of high school.

Like his dad who also worked at Ingalls, Mitchell liked the stability and the steadiness. But sometimes he worked odd hours. His wife would wake up to see him off.

MITCHELL: She would iron my work clothes, and I would shine my shoes. I was proud of going down there.

A few times, he enjoyed being part of a brand new ship’s sea trials.

MITCHELL: You go out for a week, and they do all the tests . . . the ship be rolling. It can dodge bullets and dodge ships. It's amazing what they can do.

And Mitchell says one of the best parts of spending so many years at one workplace was the friendships formed.

MITCHELL: I was the only black on the crane. And they loved me like a brother. We loved each other.

Back at the apprentice school, Instructor James Cruthirds is teaching students to work with sheet metal. Like Frederick Mitchell, Cruthirds has spent 40 years at Ingalls, too. He’s concerned about the next generation of workers.

CRUTHIRDS: We have to teach them math, we have to teach them rule reading. They have spent her life playing video games instead of out in the yard working and playing and building stuff. It's a huge challenge.

But a pipeline of workers is necessary to keep a shipyard afloat.

CRUTHIRDS: Work with them, and work with them, and eventually get them to where they can do it.

HENDRSON: It’s harder today?

CRUTHIRDS: A lot harder.

HENDERSON: A lot harder?

CRUTHIRDS: A lot harder. It's work.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kim Henderson in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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