While COVID-19 pandemic may have halted events and restricted gatherings, Bath Iron Works has pushed ahead with its hiring spree by offering drive-thru hiring events throughout the state.

According to the company’s website, the events are “socially distanced events where attendees will not even need to leave their vehicle to chat with our staff.” BIW staff are available to offer on-the-spot job interviews and, potentially, job offers.

“These events were designed to take the careers directly to the job seekers in Maine and New Hampshire,” Director of Human Resources Services Allyson Coombs wrote in an email to The Times Record Thursday. “With COVID-19 restrictions affecting everyone, we figured we needed to get out in the public and help them feel safe as well as making the process easy for them to get in and out with quick offers and limited exposure.”

BIW, a subsidiary of defense company General Dynamics, has hired 444 tradespeople through drive-thru events so far this year, according to Coombs. Since the events began in August 2020, the company has extended over 1,200 job offers.

“These events have proven to be incredibly popular with job seekers as well as our hosts throughout the state,” Coombs wrote. “We have used career centers and county fairgrounds all over the state to try and help the job seekers by enabling them to stay in their communities and still interview for a great opportunity.”

The drive-thru events are focused mainly on gaining tradespeople such as electricians, machinists, carpenters, tinsmiths, pipefitters and welders, said Coombs.

The shipyard hopes to hire 2,700 employees by the end of this year and have 6,000 manufacturing employees in its arsenal, according to Coombs. The company hired and trained nearly 1,800 employees in 2019 and added about 1,000 more last year, bringing the shipyard’s total workforce to roughly 6,900.

According to Coombs, BIW is expanding its workforce to “meet the U.S. Navy’s critical need for Arleigh Burke destroyers.”

Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are the primary type of ship BIW constructs. The Navy took ownership of BIW’s most recent Arleigh Burke, the future USS Daniel Inouye, earlier this month. Meanwhile, the future Arleigh Burke-class destroyers Carl M. Levin, John Basilone, Harvey C. Barnum, Patrick Gallagher, Louis H. Wilson, Jr. and William Charette remain under construction at the Bath shipyard.

The shipyard is also bolstering its workforce to help reverse production delays inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic and a strike last summer that removed over half of its machinists from the workforce for over two months.

“Meeting our hiring and training goals will position us for success in meeting our schedule commitments,” Coombs wrote in a statement Thursday. “Our newer mechanics are already making a tremendous contribution and their productivity and efficiency will grow as they gain experience.”

According to the company’s website, the preoutfit department, responsible for welding steel plates into pieces of the ship structure, is chugging along at a pace of 1.6 ships per year, as of last week. That’s an improvement from early February when the preoutfit department operated at a speed of 1.25 ships per year, according to the company’s website.

While the shipyard is seeing evidence of increasing its production speed and a growing manufacturing base, it’s working against experienced workers retiring in waves. Since 2019, between 15-20 manufacturing employees retire per month on average, and the shipyard expects that number to increase, according to Coombs.

“Our experienced shipbuilders bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise gained over many years of building great ships,” Coombs wrote. “Beyond that, they perform a vital service in passing their knowledge on to the next generation of shipbuilders before taking their well-earned retirement.”

While BIW is pushing to deliver its backlog of ships to the Navy on time, Maine lawmakers are advocating for shipbuilders, including BIW, to receive more destroyer contracts.

Last week the Maine legislative delegation, alongside four Mississippi lawmakers, sent a letter to the newly confirmed secretary and deputy secretary of defense urging them to support increasing shipbuilding spending. Sens. Susan Collins, Angus King, Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden argued funding more ships, such as Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, would maintain both national security and the country’s industrial base.

“In the era of great-power competition, a stronger U.S. Navy capable of projecting power around the world is necessary to ensure America’s national and economic security during peacetime as well as to defeat our adversaries should deterrence fail,” lawmakers wrote to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks. “Due to the long lead times necessary to properly procure and resource a larger fleet, attention must be paid to this critical issue immediately.”


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