Northrop Grumman Ship Systems (NGSS), which builds destroyers and assault ships for the military, employs approximately 18,000 people in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. And like many employers, one of NGSS’s training goals is retaining employees and increasing their skill levels.
“Retention issues are sometimes caused by lack of skills,” said Mark Scott, president and CEO of CARES Inc., which provides testing and training services for NGSS. “There is a definite link between foundational skills and job performance, and people can’t learn new skills if they don’t have the foundation first. New skills result in more career opportunities for workers.”
In manufacturing environments, innovations in technology, materials and tools result in the need for increased skills for workers. Many times skills gaps can be traced back to inadequate foundation skills. Northrop Grumman wanted a system that could pinpoint foundational skill gaps and offer training to overcome those gaps, along with training for skills specific to each job. “We needed a tool to help us be efficient in upgrading the foundational skills of our workers and identify training targets,” said Dr. Larry Crane, director of training for NGSS.
In 1998, Northrop Grumman played a leading role in the formation of the Gulf Coast Shipbuilding Partnership (GCSP)—a consortium that includes shipbuilding companies, labor unions, community colleges, workforce boards and other agencies across Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The consortium was organized to address and overcome skill shortages within shipbuilding companies. ACT’s WorkKeys system is an essential part of the consortium, providing job profiling, skill assessment and training.
Job profilers at CARES, the managing partner of GCSP, examined four positions within Northrop Grumman’s Hull Department—shipfitter, welder, burner and grinder. Employees in those positions were asked to volunteer for a skill-upgrade program. More than 1,200 employees participated—about 65 percent of the department. Participants took the WorkKeys exams (Applied Mathematics, Reading for Information, and Observation) most applicable to their jobs, according to job profiles. The results led to each participant’s “learning prescription,” which blended specific training from Worldwide Interactive Network Inc. (WIN) with job-specific training.
GCSP called this the “WIN-plus” curriculum. For example, a trainee might receive a Level 3 in Applied Mathematics, while the job profile for his position suggests that a Level 4 is appropriate to the job. The trainee would receive WIN training designed to boost his score, followed by “contextual packets,” which give direction on how to use those higher math skills on the job. Much of the WIN and contextual training modules are computer-based. The blend of computer-based training and printed learning materials has proven popular with employees, who can train at their own pace. “Computer-based learning lends itself very well to adult learning because it’s auditory, visual and interactive,” said Scott. In addition, on-site tutors serve as “case managers,” providing one-on-one teaching and learning management using WIN materials. Successful participants are given certificates of completion at a graduation ceremony.
Among the program’s results:
- Turnover has decreased by 20 percent since implementing the WorkKeys program. Employees have the opportunity to increase wages and are not as affected by layoffs due to advancement, relocation within the company and cross-training options.
- Supervisors say the quality of work has increased dramatically.
- Employee job satisfaction has increased, with more employees within the Hull Department applying for promotions. Employees who otherwise would not be eligible to apply for promotions are now encouraged to do so on the basis of their WorkKeys scores and completion of training.
Northrop Grumman is now rolling the program out to other positions within Ship Systems. The company has now profiled more than 20 positions in 11 skilled trades throughout the company. “The Shipbuilding Consortium’s overall goal is to develop a workforce comfortable with continuous learning,” said Crane. “WorkKeys allows us to target our efforts. It allows us to determine what the important skills are and at what level you need to be proficient. Almost daily, we discover a new benefit and new use for it.”
Will Valet is a communications associate for ACT Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.