Bath Iron Works will have hired 1,000 new workers in 2020, but the larger workforce won’t immediately help the shipyard fight back against scheduling delays because it takes, on average, five years for a mechanic to become proficient. Kathleen O’Brien/The Times Record

BATH — Bath Iron Works is continuing its hiring push after being hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic and the summer’s nine-week union strike. However, adding to its workforce by the hundreds won’t help the company get back on schedule for a while, according to BIW spokesman David Hench.

The shipyard has taken on 600 employees this year and plans to take on 400 more by the end of the year.

“Our plan to add another 1,200 employees in 2021 will maintain that momentum, resulting in a pace of building two ships per year,” said Hench.

Hench said the training process new hires go through is lengthy and it takes about five years on average for mechanics to reach peak proficiency because “for many of our new employees, there is an extended period of company-provided training and mentoring required before a new mechanic fully contributes to production.”

But BIW, a subsidiary of global aerospace and defense company General Dynamics, doesn’t have time to waste as it works to recover from production delays on its backlog of ships.

“We have adopted a schedule recovery plan through 2023 that includes specific near-term goals that will bring us to our rate of delivering two ships per year,” Hench said. “The new employees we’ve hired are working with more experienced mechanics to help us achieve performance milestones like getting all fabricated parts to assembly teams on time and readying the future USS Daniel Inouye for sea trials by mid-December.”

The USS Daniel Inouye, christened last summer, was initially scheduled to be delivered to the Navy about a year ago, Hench said in August. The next two ships BIW is scheduled to deliver will be a year or more behind schedule.

BIW President Dirk Lesko told the Portland Press Herald in May that the shipyard was already at least six months behind schedule. The next month, Machinists Union Local S6, which represents 4,300 of its 6,800 workers, went on strike. Union members came back to work Aug. 24 after approving a new contract with the company, but the damage caused by their nine-week absence was already done.

To help with schedule recovery, a team of Local S6 leaders and BIW management meet weekly, said Local S6 Spokesman Tim Suitter, though he added that it may be a while before workers notice an increase in production.

“We’re meeting regularly and it’s still a work in progress, but a lot of it is trying to tackle the issues on the table,” said Suitter. “We’re working together and focusing on getting things straightened out after coming back to work from the strike and getting used to a new contract.”

Although the shipbuilders have plenty of work ahead of them, including contracts to build 11 new Arleigh Burke-class destroyers for the Navy over the next eight years, and finishing the third and final Zumwalt-class destroyer, Hench said the company is boosting its workforce in the hopes of winning new work from the Navy, something it has struggled with in recent memory.

This summer, BIW’s main competitor, Mississippi-based Huntington Ingalls, won a $936 million contract to build an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.

In April, BIW lost out on a $5.58 billion contract to build up to 10 guided-missile frigates for the Navy. The Navy announced Italian shipbuilding company Fincantieri was chosen to build the ships.

“Today’s hiring is helping to regain schedule right now but is also laying the foundation for improved performance in the future, enabling us to deliver on our commitments to the U.S. Navy and put us in a position to win new work,” Hench said.


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