Family Working Together, Learning Manufacturing Skills Critical to Steering Destroyers

At a time when thousands of employees are retiring and taking their wealth of wisdom with them, knowledge transfer is extremely valuable, especially in manufacturing skills.

In Charlottesville, Virginia, it is not only valuable, but necessary. With a limited number of experts able to bend tubing and weld piping on the U.S. Navy’s DDG 51 class Destroyers, a wave of retirements threatened to delay critical work on steering systems. This particular work can take months to complete and requires a level of precision, skill and expertise that is hard to find.

For Billy Almond, a manager of machining manufacturing for Northrop Grumman’s Navigation and Maritime Systems division, who has been with the company for over 30 years, that was unacceptable. Focused and on a mission, Billy visited the Valley Career and Technical (Vo Tech) Center in Fisherville, Virginia, to recruit new talent.

There, he was introduced to the Vo Tech Center’s best welding prospect, Dylan Gilmer. Dylan, a high school senior studying welding at the Vo Tech Center, was undecided about where he would work after school. Thankfully, he came to work for Northrop Grumman and brought his manufacturing skills with him. For Billy, this was a win because the pipeline for talent is becoming tougher and narrower. “A lot of people aren’t interested in doing this type of work,” he says. “You have to find people who want to do it.”

After accepting a position with Northrop Grumman in August 2012, Dylan studied under Meredith Leake, a soon-to-be retiree, and learned the many years’ worth of knowledge that would soon leave the company. For Dylan, apprenticeship with Meredith made his transition smooth and easy. Also, because of its success and his overall satisfaction with the company, he decided to do some recruiting of his own.

Two Caucasian Males leaning on manufacturing equipment
Drake Gilmer, left, along with his brother Dylan, filled a critical welding need on a U.S. Navy Destroyer.


Family Working Together

Dylan’s brother Drake also studied welding at the Vo Tech Center, and Dylan thought he was a great candidate to bring on board. Even though Drake started about two years after Dylan, he was still mentored and taught by Meredith before he retired. The mentoring, combined with the brothers’ manufacturing skills, gave them a tremendous advantage in their new roles and made them immediately valuable to the high-demand systems work on Destroyer ships.

Each project begins with about two weeks of pre-welding and then enters a series of steps including tube bending, which takes about four months to complete. Their overall timeline for just one finished product? Eight months.

When asked what the best part of their job was, Dylan answered, “It has purpose. It’s going to make a difference.”

Northrop Grumman has a long history of manufacturing, innovation and family working together to carry on our legacy. Click here to search jobs in manufacturing in many locations throughout the U.S.

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