Artistry is not what comes to mind for most people when they think about welding. But at BAE Systems and at weld schools across the country, talented weld students are perfecting their ability to manipulate metal to create masterpieces just like artists use paint or clay. The difference is, the metal masterpieces built at our facilities are shipped to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines to help them complete their missions and return home safely.
It takes a combination of learning and practice to perfect any craft. While BAE Systems runs many on the-job learning programs like in-house welding schools, a continuous flow of new candidates into the pipeline helps us deliver world class welding capability that is a foundational element of many of our products.
This quest for talent is what drives our Louisville, Kentucky and York, Pennsylvania manufacturing teams to partner with local trade schools to support and address the critical need for welding and machining. We do the same in our shipyards that repair and modernize U.S. Navy ships. We help students through these partnerships make career plans before they even graduate. At the same time, we keep an open dialogue with schools about industry needs to help them shape their curriculum and ensure all their graduates are ready for the work force.
“Our partnership with the Jefferson Community and Technical College, and Vincennes University trade school programs in Louisville is mutually beneficial,” said Sara Patterson, deputy director of operations at BAE Systems’ Louisville site. “BAE Systems engages students who have a foundation of their craft to better result in a reduced learning curve on the job. This collaboration opens the door for future training needs as well as the potential to influence program curriculum.”
Being an apprentice
Shipyard welders play a vital role in fixing Navy ships and getting them back to sea. Our Norfolk, Virginia shipyard, in addition to working with local trade schools, has its own in-house welding apprenticeship program. The program recruits individuals seeking a career in welding or other tradecraft who have little or no experience. The apprenticeship aims to teach them the requisite skills for a career in welding, and they get paid while in the program – earn as you learn.
“Our apprentice program provides an option to high school graduates who have little or no technical skills, but a strong interest in learning a trade a building a successful and satisfying career,” said Tobey Allen, the yard’s apprentice program coordinator. “Our apprentices are guided by senior shipyard craftsmen and women who will train the students for critical roles.”
The Louisville site has hired more than 35 welders since September while partnering with various schools around the country, including the Hobart Institute of Welding Technology, Tulsa Welding School, ArcLabs, Jefferson Community and Technical, and Vincennes University trade school programs.
Students are offered a manufacturing-like environment with complex, high-tolerance components and machinery, along with a variety of weld processes. This enhances their expertise in a defense manufacturing environment, giving them real-life experience before they join the workforce. This partnership helps develop the skills necessary to start a career at a defense company, while also teaching students the basics of safety and the understanding needed to work in a complex environment.
“The partnership with BAE Systems has allowed me to showcase my welding skills and advance my knowledge as a welder,” said Craig Stout, a welder at BAE Systems’ York facility and a graduate from Hobart Institute of Welding Technologies. “When I was in the United States Marine Corps, I worked with sheet metal on helicopters as an airframe mechanic. But I couldn't actually fix the metal parts that broke. As a welder, I can fix and repair these broken pieces as if they never broke, and that allows me to continue supporting the Marines in uniform today.”
Stout was the first graduate to be hired under our trade school partnership program with Hobart. The York site’s operations team also partners with trade schools such as Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology and Pennsylvania College of Technology to recruit tradespeople with critical manufacturing skills.
If you were to walk through our manufacturing facilities on any given workday, it would be easy to spot the bluish-green glow of the weld arcs emanating from vehicle hulls and submarine parts, because this is one of the building blocks of so many of our products. At BAE Systems, that glow is a reminder that we have our own type of talented artist at work on our most critical masterpieces.