BATH — Through these gates…

Thousands of men and women from BIW know this familiar phrase at the main entrance to Bath Iron Works: Through these gates pass the best shipbuilders in the world.

Our history is a great source of pride. It also serves as a reminder to each generation of shipbuilders that BIW’s reputation is earned over and over each and every day.

The demographic trends of our state are reflected in our people. Waves of shipbuilders who came into BIW when the first Arleigh Burke destroyers were being built in the 1980s have retired and more continue to do so. We all have a stake in finding and training their successors.

In sharp contrast to the ongoing loss of manufacturing jobs in Maine and across the United States, BIW is hiring. We’ve hired more than 2,000 people since 2014 and are poised to hire an additional 2,000 over the next five years.

These are good-paying jobs with good benefits – the kinds of jobs that enable people to live in Maine and to buy homes, raise families, educate their children, save for retirement and contribute to their community.

Today, 5,700 men and women engage in our unique form of manufacturing, one that requires advanced skills in numerous trades, including welders, pipefitters and electricians, along with design disciplines like naval architecture and marine engineering.

As the Navy grapples with the challenges of recapitalizing America’s fleet, BIW’s role will depend on how successfully we maintain our highly skilled workforce and whether we have world-class facilities.

Anyone driving down Washington Street in Bath can see BIW has been investing in our facilities, modernizing our buildings and machinery to provide a safer and more efficient workplace.

As important are the investments we are making in our people. New employees at BIW are taught trade-specific skills in our Trades Learning Center – from welding and grinding to rigging steel for major crane lifts.

Every summer, BIW hires dozens of interns, many of them from the engineering programs at the University of Maine and Maine Maritime Academy, to give students real-world experience in manufacturing and to interest them in becoming part of our rich heritage.

Our apprenticeship program has existed since the 1920s and provides a pool of highly trained mechanics and designers who become force multipliers in shipbuilding and ship design, dramatically increasing our output and effectiveness. Today, BIW employs more than 400 current or former apprentices.

Why does all this matter? BIW’s impact is felt throughout the state. We have an annual payroll of more than $400 million, including people from as far away as Aroostook County. We purchase $45 million in supplies and services each year from companies in 11 of the state’s 16 counties.

BIW currently has six ships under construction, with three more under contract, but we can never rest. Our time horizon is long and we operate in a very competitive environment.

BIW can continue to be an engine for economic growth and provide opportunity for thousands of Maine families, but a skilled workforce remains the key to our future, just as it is for all businesses, large and small.

Maine’s high schools, our Maine Community College System and public universities are helping to prepare candidates for BIW careers. We in turn are working in partnership with these institutions and Maine Quality Centers to help guide that training.

For us, it all comes down to that sign we pass under every day. We want to keep the best shipbuilders in the world passing through our gates for generations to come and we want the chance to prove with every ship we deliver that “Bath Built is Best Built.”

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