A New Approach to Training Apprentice Skylar Rhoades works on a mock-up that will be used to train apprentices in Bldg. 5. Photo by Ashley Cowan

A New Approach to Training

Published March 30, 2021

X32 apprentices at Newport News Shipbuilding are building mock-ups that will provide a realistic environment for many of the same apprentices to learn about outfitting work on submarines and aircraft carriers.

The mock-ups – two compartments that are 8 feet long, 8 feet wide and 8 feet high – were built from scratch and contain similar structural components to a ship. Each mock-up has a workbench, and they will share a welding machine.

“We’ve been using the actual build process to train apprentices. We have a couple who are further along, but most of the apprentices are at about the six-month mark, so building these is a huge undertaking for them,” said Apprentice Craft Instructor Sam Shoun.

Once construction is complete, X33 apprentices will paint and O43 apprentices will install shipboard-style lights. The mock-ups can be repurposed and used for a training on a variety of work, including installing and removing ventilation or nonstructural bulkheads. They also will give apprentices practice with awkward welding positions, learning how to level and other skills.

Located in the X32 Apprentice Gallery in Bldg. 5, the mock-ups are taking over the footprint of two of the final sheet metal pattern tables in the shipyard. That skill largely has been replaced by technology such as computer-aided design (CAD) programs and digitizers.

Shoun and other apprentice instructors are confident this new style resource will supplement fabrication-focused training and help reduce the time-to-talent for new apprentices when they get to shipboard locations.

“When apprentices leave here, they know how to use band saws and different types of machines like that, but this will give them some sort of comprehensive knowledge of how to do the installation work so they won’t be shocked when they go on a ship,” Shoun said.

Kevin Murphy II (X32), one of the apprentices working on the mock-ups, said he thinks the compartments are a valuable training tool.

“As someone who has had no experience with welding or anything, this is a nice jumping-off point. This is how we would work on the actual ship, so I think it’s great for training and team building,” he said. “I’m a hands-on learner. When you experience something, it’s easier to learn than just hearing someone talk about it.”

Shoun said the goal is to provide that hands-on experience early in an apprenticeship. “With so many new people coming into the company, apprentices are being looked to as lead mechanics in their crews with a year or less experience,” he said. “We’re trying to speed up the process and make them even more valuable to their foremen on the deckplate.”