HII [HII] on Monday said its nuclear shipbuilding division plans to hire 5,000 people this year and nearly 21,000 within the next decade to meet the Navy’s shipbuilding needs for aircraft carrier and submarines.

The hiring this year includes 3,000 positions that cover skilled trades, which also encompasses entry level personnel and trainee fitters and welders.

Through the first quarter of 2022, HII had challenges hiring and retaining workers due to lingering impacts of the COVID-19 virus on the labor market, Chris Kastner, the company’s president and CEO, said earlier this month on HII’s first quarter earnings call. Still, he said, through the end of the quarter the company hired over 1,000 personnel toward its goal of 5,000 this year, but “we’re a bit behind.”

Worker attendance was impacted in January and February due to the Omicron variant of COVID but in March employees were on the job at the usual rate, Kastner said.

To accelerate hiring, HII said it is conducting numerous hiring events in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia where Newport News Shipbuilding is based and is also recruiting nationwide.

HII also operates the Apprentice School that provides tuition free apprenticeships in trades and advanced programs.

On the earnings call, Kastner said that the company is focused on its relationships with the Apprentice School, high schools and community colleges. As graduations occur soon, hiring should ramp up over the summer, he said.

“So, it’s definitely a watch item,” he said. “We need to hire, we need to train and we need to be productive.”