Giants of Skilled Trades: Bob Spears, Newport News Shipbuilding

A man poses for a picture. "Giants of Skilled Trades" text in white sits over his left shoulder, with a green-filtered picture of Newport News Shipbuilding's facilities behind them.

Bob Spears has continued a family tradition while creating an outstanding legacy of his own.

Bob Spears, Newport News Shipbuilding

In his 41 years (and counting) as a shipbuilder at HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding division, the Norfolk native has spent most of his career as a nuclear mechanic on U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and submarines. With the former, Spears has been a part of the refueling and overhaul of seven different Nimitz Class carriers.

On the submarine side, he has helped repair and maintain vessels in a pair of classes: the Benjamin Franklin Class which was in commission from 1965 to 2002, and the Los Angeles Class which has been in use since 1976.

As NNS continues its wide-ranging work constructing the next generation of the Navy’s submarines and other ships while maintaining existing vessels, Spears’s essential role continues to serve as an example to his present and future NNS coworkers. We asked him some questions about his impactful work.

What made you want to get into the skilled trades?

I have always been interested in working on motors, lawnmowers, and cars. My father and grandfather worked at different shipyards. It was only natural that I work at one as well, so now I work to build our nation’s most powerful ships.

What satisfaction have you gotten over the years from working on so many Navy ships?

Knowing that I played a part in helping our country stay in the fight and defend our freedom.

Is there anything that stands out from working on the submarines?

One of the things I liked about working on subs was testing the hydraulic systems. I was able to operate torpedo tubes, missile tubes, periscopes, the rudder, and fairwater planes.

The HII Newport News Shipbuilding shipyard is seen from an aerial view. Two aircraft carriers are docked in the waterfront. Other docks are empty. On land are numerous buildings, pieces of equipment and roads, along with a forested area.
The USS New Jersey submarine plows through ocean water while surfaced. The sun peaks through a partly cloudy blue sky.
The USS Massachusetts is tied to a submerged surrounding dock with people standing on either side. A boat is floating alongside the rear of the sub.

Are there any skills you've developed that have been helpful to you outside of work?

Learning how to work with, respect, and appreciate friends better.

What characteristics do you think great skilled tradespeople have?

They take pride in their skills and abilities to make sure the job is done right the first time.

What would you tell someone who is looking at pursuing a skilled trades career today?

It’s a great opportunity to make a career. There are plenty of opportunities for advancement. It’s been a great way for me to provide for my family.

What do you hope your legacy will be?

That I always set a good example and take pride in my work. That I respected my work peers and I worked really hard to get the job completed correctly the first time and within budget on time.

Careers at HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding division are among the thousands available right now in the Opportunities section of

Written by:
Steve Fullhart, BlueForge Alliance

(Photos from NNS)

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