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Apprenticeship Opens Door to Nontraditional Career

Regina McClean instructs Newport News Shipbuilding apprentices
Regina McClean instructs apprentices at Newport News Shipbuilding

Regina McLean of Hampton, Virginia, has never been one to stand down from a challenge, including a bold move into a nontraditional career opportunity. 

At 32, Regina had been working at a child care center in Newport News. While out shopping one afternoon, she came across Newport News Shipbuilding. Curious to learn more about the company, Regina stopped in.

She learned that the company was seeking job candidates for work building aircraft carriers and submarines. Although she had no prior experience in manufacturing, she was intrigued by the opportunity and filled out an application.

Regina was hired as a machinist two weeks later, and received training on how to weld and run blades and saws. Her supervisors saw her potential and encouraged her to pursue the company’s machinist apprenticeship program after a few months on the job.

Regina McClean in her office at Newport News Shipbuilding

Eager to learn more, she took their advice and was accepted into the four-year program in 2002. She spent two days in the classroom and three days in the field per week, and was paid for all of her time.

Her skills and motivation stood out: Regina was selected to work with an experienced foreman at a company outside of the shipbuilding school, while most other apprentices worked directly under the supervision of a school craft instructor.

“I worked for supervisors with a lot of experience who made sure I learned everything about the job and fully understood what I was doing,” Regina said, “They allowed me to gain supervisory experience, and learn about relevant regulations and processes.”

When Regina graduated in 2006, she received the Niels Christiansen Award for her excellent work and having the highest grade in her trade.

Regina later became a craft instructor at Newport News Shipbuilding’s apprenticeship school, teaching students about leadership, machinist theory, and onboard machine shop installation and testing. Since finishing the apprenticeship, she has earned a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees, and is currently employed in a management position with the company.

“Pursuing an apprenticeship was the best decision I have ever made,” she said. “It afforded me a lot of opportunities and built confidence in me I would not have had otherwise.”        

Find an apprenticeship program or learn how to sponsor one at

Editor’s note: Regina’s story is one example of an effective workforce program in action. View more success stories here.

Briar Gibbons is an intern with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Public Affairs in Philadelphia.


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I hate the fact that your article says non traditional. Like what world do you live in where being a machinist is “non traditional” when that profession in some iteration or another has been around at least for several hundred years when child care centers are almost completely an invention of the 20th century

In reply to by Bryson may (not verified)

I am in agreement with Bryson. The success that an apprentice machinist can achieve is almost unlimited given the creative mind of the apprentice. My personal example is the career of Joseph Whitworth. Take a quick look at this example
My personal career has been in the construction industry coupled with my experience as an educator in multiple trades and crafts. I tend to focus on job site safety. Having been in the industry long before there was an OSHA; job site safety is critical for fostering a since of value to the employee. An encouraging prompt that I share with students (crafts and trades) is that in most cases the safeguard of those career paths is that losing jobs to the "offshore" craze is highly unlikely.

In reply to by Bryson may (not verified)

The “non traditional” is referring to the fact that after an apprenticeship most people will enter machining or in the case of this subject, shipbuilding. She chose an alternative path after apprenticeship making it non traditional in the sense of the path people typically take post apprenticeship