Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Workforce Development Strategy: Engage In the Process Upstream

By Mike Petters

There’s a lot of talk these days about college and what level of education you’ll need to be successful in the 21st century. Meanwhile, there’s a steady—and largely unmet—demand for people that do things with their hands. At Huntington Ingalls Industries, for example, the vast majority of the people that we’ll hire over the next five years won’t have or even need a college degree.

The way I see it, it doesn’t matter if you have a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree or a high school diploma. If you have a love of learning, you’re going to be well set-up for work in the 21st century. In fact, if you’re joining the workforce today, your job will fundamentally change several times during your career, even if you happen to stay at the same company for the whole time.

That’s why workforce development is so important.

At Huntington Ingalls Industries, many of our 37,000 employees didn’t come to us completely trained and qualified to do the work that we do. So we offer a variety of internal workforce development programs—from apprenticeships and internships to any number of on-the-job training programs. We spend over $100 million a year on workforce development and have thousands of people involved in those programs every single day.

All of these programs are about giving our employees the tools they need, the support they need and the knowledge they need to do their very best work. If we can do that, I think we’re being very successful at workforce development.

We are also highly engaged in external workforce development initiatives. State programs have been valuable to us because we’ve partnered with community colleges. We’ve also done things locally in high schools that make the whole process of workforce development seamless to our operation.

We’ve even started investing in early education programs. I’m not under any illusions that all of those kids in pre-school today will end up being HII employees in 20 years, but I think we have a responsibility to invest in children, given the horizon of our business and the long-term nature of what we do. Again, it’s about cultivating that love of learning as early as possible.

I’ve seen other companies that talk about the need for improved workforce development programs, but many of them just sit at the end of the workforce development pipeline and wait for the product to come out. Not surprisingly, they’re not happy with the results. My view is that the more you engage in that product upstream, the better the results will be.

So how can businesses get involved? Join local and regional workforce investment boards. Go get involved with your local community colleges. Get involved in the local high schools and do the things that will help develop the workforce of the future. The more involved you get and the more investment you make, the better your return’s going to be.

Keep in mind: Most industrial employers are not looking for employees with degrees. To meet the demand for people that work with their hands, we’re looking for motivation. And inspiration. And in most cases, perspiration. If you’re willing to come do some hard work and want to do it, we’re probably going to have a place for you. And if you love learning, the opportunities for development will come with the job.

Mike Petters is president and CEO of Huntington Ingalls Industries, America’s largest military shipbuilding company and a provider of professional services to partners in government and industry. He recently received the Committee for Economic Development’s Owen B. Butler Education Excellence Award, which recognizes an individual’s exceptional commitment to quality education, skills development and workforce development programs.

Petters also discusses workforce development in the “HII Talking Points” podcast, available here: http://www.huntingtoningalls.com/hii-talking-points/.

Mike Rowe