With the first Offshore Fisheries Science Vessel moving towards a Q2 2019 delivery date, and the second and third making their way through Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyards as well as the start of construction on the first Joint Support Ship, the National Shipbuilding Strategy is well underway. Indeed, the NSS program that has induced a full shipyard modernization project at Seaspan’s expense, extensive recruitment of trades and office staff to a largely moribund industry in B.C., investments in training and a few changes in leadership along the way not to mention the actual design, planning, procurement and construction of the vessels is keeping true to its intent of reinvigorating B.C.’s shipbuilding industry.
In the role for only a few months now, CEO of Seaspan Shipyards, Mark Lamarre has been observing, listening and familiarizing himself with operations and staff. Lamarre brings 35 years of shipbuilding experience to Seaspan. Of note, he spent almost 25 years at General Dynamics, Bath Iron Works in various roles that involved complex planning, operations management and restructuring. His most recent position before joining Seaspan was as CEO of Australian Shipbuilding Company where he led the $600-million shipbuilding division that was engaged in the engineering, construction and post-delivery support of Australian Naval surface combatants.
With a priority on maintaining a stable organization that delivers predictability for the workforce, shareholders and customers, Lamarre has been meeting with staff — both in the office and the shop floor — to gauge the “level of maturity of the yard and the workforce,” said Tim Page, Vice President, Government Relations, adding that “the shipbuilding community in B.C. had all but atrophied by the end of the 1980s/early 1990s. As we progress through the NSS program, we’re continuously improving our processes based on lessons learned — Mark’s experience, and that of his leadership team, lends well to identifying gaps that need to be addressed.”
Offshore Fisheries Science Vessel #1 is in Victoria now for the remaining outfitting work before it enters into the test and trials phase in early 2019.
OFSV #2 and #3 continue on at a good pace through Vancouver Shipyards. Page noted that one of the commitments of the new Seaspan leadership to the Board and the Federal Government was to review existing schedules to confirm timelines. An analysis is currently underway and should be complete by the end of November.
When asked about lessons learned from OFSV #1, Page said that “we’re quantifying those lessons learned from a productivity perspective as well as a quality assurance standpoint, and we are seeing it take fewer hours for the same processes on ship #2 than on ship #1. That was expected given a stable production workforce now familiar with the requirements and executing to those requirements.”
He added that, in addition to improving the delivery of work packages for the trades, they are continuously looking for skills gaps or challenges and addressing those to help with a more fully integrated production system. “As our maturity as a yard grows, and as the program progresses, we’re able to bring in people who possess the skill set and knowledge to train those who don’t yet have those learned skills and experience.”
Steel was cut on the first Joint Support Ship in June this year as design and production engineering work continues before the start of full rate construction. Seaspan recently announced a significant contract awarded to Nova Scotia-based Hawboldt Industries for deck equipment, including anchoring and mooring packages and the primary cranes. The package, worth $8 million, is one of several expected to be announced for the naval supply ships in the coming months. “This type of contract demonstrates that the NSS is achieving its objectives in terms of revitalizing the shipbuilding industry on Canada’s West Coast and generating economic activity across the country,” said Page. “As we ensure we are delivering a vessel that meets Canada’s requirements, we’re doing so in a way that works to maximize Canadian industrial participation.”
The Offshore Oceanographic Science Vessel is next in line and Page reported that the team is in the throes of developing a build proposal for the Federal Government, to be submitted before the end of the year.
The Polar Icebreaker is scheduled to follow the completion of JSS construction. “As we move through the process, one of the lessons both ourselves and the government have learned is the importance of sitting down with each other early on in the project life cycle to understand needs and make decisions together on the planning and design development cycles, ensuring those needs are met as efficiently as possible.”
Much further down the timeline of the 30-year program are the five Medium Endurance Multi-Tasked Vessels and five Offshore Patrol Vessels, announced by then Minister of Public Works and Government Services, Diane Findlay, in June 2014. “We had initial discussions around the Canadian Coast Guard’s preliminary thinking,” Page said. “It’s still very early on for those and it’s fair to say that the CCG have been revisiting their thinking about future fleet needs with an eye to commonality of equipment and reduction in the number of variants in the fleet. These are important factors that can lead to greater fleet interoperability and lower life-cycle maintenance and training costs.”
A new generation of shipbuilders
With 700 shop workers and 300 office staff, Page said this level has been fairly stable over the last few months.
As mentioned earlier, with the shipbuilding industry in B.C. having waned for the past few decades, there was an expected skills gap for both blue and white collar jobs. “It’s a part of our commitment to a culture of continuous improvement where we’re constantly looking to ensure the workers have the skills and knowledge to do their job. There aren’t huge gaps except that it’s a relatively inexperienced group so there’s a lot of work to train, educate and reinforce modified processes or procedures,” said Page. “We’re tasked with encouraging a new generation of young Canadians from across the country to consider a career in shipbuilding. We’re also trying to break down the stereotype of this being a male-dominated industry.”
As part of that commitment to create the next generation of shipbuilders, Seaspan currently takes on about 100 interns per year in the office as well as a significant number of apprentices on the shop floor. “Through our commitments to Canada, we continue to invest in a number of trade schools and post-secondary institutions, including the University of Victoria, the University of BC, Camosun College, BCIT and ACCESS (the Aboriginal Community Career Employment Service Society) to support trades training,” Page said. “I have had the pleasure of speaking with apprentices and interns on a number of occasions and see enthusiastic young people keen to contribute to what we see as a nation-building program.”
On the apprentice side, Page said all candidates come to us through union halls. We are working collaboratively with our union leadership to ensure our labour force has the skills and tools to do their jobs safely and productively. “Where we find gaps, we make sure training is offered onsite, including mentorships through folks who have 30-plus years of shipbuilding experience.”
Page estimated that thanks to the NSS, Seaspan has already committed contracts worth upwards of $650 million with, at last count, 520 Canadian-based suppliers. “The vast majority of those companies are considered to be small and medium-sized businesses and they are spread across the country, albeit with the bulk in B.C., Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada,” he said, adding that efforts such as hosting information sessions and having representatives on site at numerous trade shows, provides a great opportunity to talk to industry suppliers about current and anticipated needs. Most recently, Seaspan hosted a session at DEFSEC in Halifax, Canada’s second largest defence conference, where about 60 attendees received information on the opportunities associated with the NSS.
As the NSS program progresses, the opportunities as well as the economic benefits will continue to grow. And as those numbers grow, so grows the industry.