Skilled trades need grows with boating rebound April 19, 2015
As the nation’s and boating industry’s recovery lengthens, leading to higher employment, the competition for skilled workers has also increased. In niche markets like marine services and boatbuilding, the challenge of attracting qualified tradespeople is intensified because job seekers with skills may look first to other high profile industries such as autos, aviation, homebuilding or oil field service. The perception may be that wages in boating aren’t up to par with the others, despite studies showing otherwise.
In his April editorial in Soundings Trade Only, editor Bill Sisson said this shortage cycle has some new twists. “They include a lack of ‘soft skills’ among young workers; the reluctance of workers who lost jobs in marine during the recession and found employment elsewhere to come back; our rapidly graying work force; and the fast pace of technological change, which is making it difficult for workers to keep up without additional training.” Soft skills are those basics centering on getting to work on time and being ready to work for the whole week or beyond as needed.
Observers of the labor market have been warning about the skills shortage for years, and with the boomers heading to retirement the pace is accelerating. Global employers surveyed by Manpower Group report the biggest talent shortages in the skilled trades category for the third year in a row. Engineers are second on the list. Moving up to third are technicians in production operations, maintenance and other roles.
Just under half (47 percent) of companies that are addressing talent shortages are doing so by adopting new practices including providing additional training and development to existing staff. Companies are also utilizing contemporary recruitment practices and redefining qualifying criteria to include individuals who lack some required skills or formal qualifications, but have the potential to acquire them. (The Manpower report can be found at www.manpowergroup.us/campaigns/talent-shortage-2014/assets/pdf/2014_Talent_Shortage_WP_US.pdf).
Defining the challenge isn’t hard, but the fix is: attract more workers to the marine industry, get the younger generations and schoolkids attention to marine careers, and train job seekers to acquire skills needed to fill the void.
A key component of attracting the trainees or making high school and college students and job seekers aware of opportunities in the marine sector is industry promotion. One of the ways MIASF does this is orchestrating events such as the Plywood Regatta, which exposes youth to the excitement of boat building, and Marine Industry Day, the second annual effort to be staged June 20 to bring industry workers and community members together. Last year’s event drew more than 2,000 people and 25 interactive and educational exhibits. The event engages the public, talks about the industry’s contributions, including jobs, to the region and mobilizes public support on boating issues.
Local and regional skills training programs also help build the workforce. Across the U.S., public and private schools, community colleges and vocational schools have a wide array of programs to engage students in marine related curriculums or prepare them for advancement to college or industry jobs. In Broward County, some examples include:
At the pre-high level, New River Middle School’s Marine Science Magnet program emphasizes an appreciation of the environment as well as providing an understanding of South Florida’s marine industry. The Riviera Beach Maritime Academy offers Maritime Career Pathways that span marine science to boat and yacht design and building, engine and electronics technology, to marina operations. At South Broward High School, the Maritime Academy provides ocean experiences for hundreds of students each year. There, the Marine Propulsion & Technology building houses a variety of outboard engines, jet skis and small boats where students in the Marine Service Program earn four years of certification training in marine engine mechanics.
On the college side, there are some programs that address industry training and certification needs, however more are needed. Broward College’s programs are helping the marine industry focus on the technical side including shorter-term certificate programs that are affordable and add value to associate’s degrees, and McFatter Technical College offers a marine service tech program. MIASF encourages students at this level to consider the marine field by awarding scholarships.
A national resource maintained by BoatUS includes colleges offering marine programs and related extracurricular boating activities along with a companion listing marine trade schools that prepare future boatbuilders, repairers, and technicians for careers in the marine industry. Go to www.boatus.com/colleges for details.
In South Florida, MIASF offers a job board at www.miasf.org where member companies can share open positions. The service is expected to become the de facto source for employment and reference point for the marine industry, agencies and the public.