Who’s gonna build the 355-ship Navy?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 16, 2017

By Rep. Bradley Byrne

America has the most powerful Navy the world has ever seen. For centuries, our sailors have provided peace and stability around the globe.

With over 80 percent of the world’s population living within 60 miles of the sea and 90 percent of the world trade moving by sea, a strong and capable U.S. Navy is critical to a bountiful economy and the wellbeing of humanity.

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Unfortunately, due to defense cuts and a shrinking fleet size, competitors are challenging our naval superiority. This is why it is critically important we support the Navy’s proposed 355-ship fleet and continue to invest in the latest technology.

In order to grow our Navy and make sure we continue to be an example of strength for the rest of the world, it is vital that we have a robust shipbuilding industry here at home.

Shipbuilding and ship repair have been an important part of our national economy since our country’s founding. Nationally, the industry accounts for roughly 400,000 jobs, provides $25.1 billion in labor income, and contributes over $37.3 billion to the GDP. Shipbuilding is about both national security and a strong economy.

Unfortunately, we cannot build up to the 355-ship fleet of tomorrow without a skilled and capable workforce. Our nation continues to experience a severe gap in skilled workers, and the shipbuilding industry is not immune to this problem.

This is one example why career and technical education (CTE) programs are so important. They provide American workers with the development and training needed to build the ships that are necessary in order to maintain our naval superiority.

Thousands of workers in the United States look to technical education programs as a path forward in their careers. Whether it is a sudden and unexpected career change or a well-planned out career for a high school student, CTE programs offer opportunity and growth for a wide range of Americans.

Aaron, one of my constituents in Southwest Alabama, is a great example of a CTE success story. Ten years ago, he started out as a plumber, but after going through a CTE program, he now supervises pipe and machinery for an entire shipyard in coastal Alabama. His supervisor cites him as one of their best leaders. His life was forever changed thanks to CTE, and he is now helping build our nation’s warships.

As the former chancellor of the Alabama’s community college system, I have seen these CTE programs firsthand and they work like magic. Encouraging our nation’s workforce to specialize in a valuable trade like shipbuilding and repair improves their lives and also provides tremendous benefits to both our economy and our national security.

Earlier this year, the House passed H.R. 2353, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, on a huge bipartisan vote. Our bipartisan bill updates the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act by empowering state and local leaders, improving alignment with in-demand job areas, and increasing transparency and accountability. These reforms will make our CTE programs stronger, which in turn will benefit the overall U.S. economy.

The bill is now under consideration in the Senate, and I hope they will act swiftly on this bipartisan bill to help train the workforce of tomorrow, including our nation’s shipbuilders.

As President Theodore Roosevelt said in 1902, “A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.” As we work to build up our Navy, let us not lose sight of the importance of maintaining and supporting a skilled workforce to build the 355-ship fleet of tomorrow.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne represents the 1st Congressional District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County.