It's a Family Thing - Brothers Learn Skills Critical to Steering Destroyers

By Gabrielle Lemmon

In a time when thousands of our employees are retiring and taking their wealth of wisdom with them, knowledge transfer has proven to be extremely valuable.

In Charlottesville, Virginia, not only was it valuable – it was necessary. Necessary, because the only person who could bend the tubing and weld the piping for the steering on the U.S. Navy’s DDG 51 class Destroyers was set to retire and there was no one to replace him. The work can take months to finish and requires a sort of precision, skill and expertise that isn’t easy 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 who took up welding at the Vo Tech, was still undecided about where he was going to work after school. Thankfully, he came to work for Northrop Grumman. For Billy, this was a big win because the pipeline for talent is becoming tougher and tougher. “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 being offered and accepting a position with Northrop Grumman in August 2012, Dylan was able to study under Meredith Leake, the soon-to-be retiree, for some time and learn the many years’ worth of knowledge that would soon leave the company. For Dylan, the apprenticeship with Meredith made the later 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.

Critical Welding
Drake Gilmer, left, along with his brother Dylan, filled a critical welding need on a U.S. Navy Destroyer.

Dylan’s brother, Drake Gilmer had also studied welding at the Vo Tech Center and Dylan thought it was only right to bring him on board. Even though Drake started about two years after Dylan, he was still able to be mentored and taught some skills by Meredith before he retired. The mentoring, combined with their own skills, gave the brothers a tremendous advantage in their new roles.

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

When asked what is the best part of what they do, Dylan answered, “It has purpose, and it’s going to make a difference.”

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