Operation Next expands to Hampton Roads
Advanced manufacturing certification program to provide training to military families
Operation Next, a federally backed advanced manufacturing workforce development program for military veterans and their spouses, has expanded to Hampton Roads.
The Maritime Base Industrial Ecosystem (MIBE) will recruit service members and their spouses to enroll in the program and will guide them to attain portable and nationally recognized credentials from the National Institute of Metalworking Skills, the American Welding Society or the Smart Automation Certification Alliance. Operation Next is an initiative of LIFT, a Detroit-based nonprofit public-private partnership sponsored by the Department of Defense to promote manufacturing jobs in support of the nation’s economy and the national defense.
The expansion was announced Tuesday during a ceremony in Norfolk held by officials from LIFT; Old Dominion University; MIBE; the Hampton Roads Workforce Council; and the Community College Workforce Cooperative.
U.S. Sen Tim Kaine, Virginia first lady Pamela Northam and Kathleen Jabs, acting Virginia secretary of veterans and defense affairs, were among those speaking about the potential impact of the program, which is aimed at providing active-duty military members and their families with workforce skills training that will lead to jobs in manufacturing.
LIFT’s mission is to bring industry, academia and government together to move the needle for advanced manufacturing and drive American manufacturing into the future through technology and talent development, said Joe Steele, senior director for communications and legislative affairs for LIFT.
Hampton Roads has more than 80,000 active-duty service members and is the first new region to offer the certification program to enlisted members since the pilot program launched in 2019 at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. It’s also being made available to National Guard and Reserve members in Michigan, Florida and Wisconsin.
Doug Smith, president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Alliance, addressed the region’s need for 10,000 assemblers, fabricators, machinists and other roles to meet the workforce demands of the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan and 15-year submarine maintenance plan, along with other projects such as the expansion of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel and Dominion Energy’s offshore wind project.
Jabs said Northam’s mandate to her was to make Virginia the most military- and veteran-friendly state in the nation. “That may sound straightforward, but to do it, it takes a whole holistic system because it’s not just the military member or the veteran, it’s the family, it’s the community, it’s everyone outside the walls of the base who comes in who really matters,” she said.
She noted that the program’s goal is to keep service members living and working in Virginia, instead of leaving for other states. “We would like to keep [more service members in Virginia] because we know the talent that veterans bring to the workforce,” she said.
Northam spoke about her experience as a military spouse when her husband, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, was an army doctor and she worked a variety jobs, including as a high school science teacher and a pediatric occupational therapist. “With the training that Operation Next will provide, these spouses will become a skilled resource that the commonwealth’s industrial base, especially Hampton Roads, the maritime industry, so desperately needs,” she said.
Susan Jacobs, vice president of Human Resources and Administration for Newport News Shipbuilding, Virginia’s largest industrial employer, said the shipbuilder is busier than they have been for the past four decades and have a goal of hiring another 6,000 employees over the next five years. She said Newport News Shipbuilding has hired 16,000 people, many of them veterans, since 2017. “I think there is a real opportunity for Operation Next and the shipyard to help one another be successful,” she said, noting that service members are always a top choice for the company’s job recruiters.
The work that Newport News Shipbuilding performs is very familiar to veterans, she said, and the transition to civilian jobs is smoother than other industries. “Many join the shipyard with … experience and sometimes a security clearance that allows them to go to work very quickly,” she said. “They’re able to interact with sailors and other military personnel, a reminder of what they were doing before and how it makes our Navy stay safe,” she said. “Our veteran employees are disciplined, they’re dedicated, they demonstrate a very strong work ethic. They are leaders in our shipyard.”