By Randall D. Smith, Supply Chain Liaison, Marine Systems, Northrup Grumman Corp.
At the beginning 2020, I thought that cannabis products and legalized marijuana would have been the big news. States were asking, if it’s legal in some states, should it be legal in ours? How can we generate a sin tax to fund our x, y, or z programs? Then COVID-19 struck. Although attention shifted, I still wondered about legal marijuana. What is the socially responsible thing to do? If someone smokes it where it is legal but lives where it isn’t, is that okay? The libertarian in me says, yes, as long as you don’t bother me. But it is still illegal under federal law.
How many of you signed a document when you began your career saying you wouldn’t consume illegal drugs? The federal government declares that if you work for the government or on a government contract, you cannot partake. Why is this important?
As a former U.S. Navy submariner, a value that drives me to deliver quality products is what might be called blind faith. As a member of the military, I went to sea with the idea that the people who built and maintain the vessel did so according to the highest standards and with great attention to detail. This adherence comes from the clear minds of those who designed and built the sub. I had a blind faith that the ship I boarded would get me home safely if it was operated and maintained to its design specifications. I exhibited blind faith in the craftsmanship of the welding, machining, and assembly of the overall system. For me it is personal. For anyone who has family or friends in the military, it should be personal also.
This personal stake is part of what drove me to continue working in the defense industry after my time in the Navy – as well as cursing the engineers who designed some of this stuff with no concept of maintenance. I was motivated to fix some things.
In my current position with a large defense company, I travel the country visiting our suppliers. These suppliers and their sub-tiers provide custom and commercial off-the-shelf components that will eventually go into aircraft carriers and submarines. All of our contracts stipulate that the suppliers and their sub-tiers must abide by a set of rules. Buried in those rules is one that says that if you’re working on defense projects, you are subject to federal law about illegal drugs.
During the COVID-19 quarantines, the defense industry was designated as an essential business, and everyone kept working their well-paying jobs with benefits and plenty of overtime. Sure, we have responsibilities such as social distancing, wearing protective gear, and reporting contact with someone who may be infected. And those who can are still working from home. But the industry keeps working.
The big defense contractors need products that many small and medium-size companies produce. From fittings and actuators to cables and weldments, the defense industry contracts with thousands of companies, including giant ones on multiacre campuses and tiny mom-and-pop machine shops that crank out nuclear-grade valves by the thousands. What do they have in common? They all play by the same rules. And most of those companies are hiring.
As I visit these companies around the country, I frequently hear the same thing, “We can’t find workers who have the desire to learn.” These companies aren’t asking for experience; if you have it, great! But they also need people who will show up every day, ready to go to work.
When companies do find those kinds of people, there is still a struggle to find candidates who can pass a urinalysis test. I recently visited a fabricator of large weldments (the size of a small house). They had a few welders retire and needed to backfill the positions. While they had a number of candidates who could lay a fine bead of a weld, they struggled finding people who could pass the urinalysis component of the hiring process. I hear similar things across the fluid power industry. Companies can’t find dependable people who are socially responsible.
There are plenty of good-paying jobs out there for people who can practice a little restraint. In this time of quarantine and record joblessness, there are jobs to be had with good pay, great benefits, and the rewards of patriotism that comes from building quality products for our country’s defense. All it requires is a little ambition, restraint, and social responsibility. Maybe for those of us more seasoned in the workforce, a little mentoring of young people would go a long way.