ABYC Conference Aims to Boost Entry to Marine Industry Careers

A lack of skilled workers has been a persistent problem for the marine industry from boatbuilding to engine repair. After a blockbuster year of boat sales, the need has only grown. In response, the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) developed an educator training program to encourage and educate those wanting to build and teach programs in the marine industry.

According to Margaret Podlich, executive director of the ABYC Foundation, while people in the industry know ABYC as the source for professional-level training and certification, the goal of this conference was to boost entry-level training. Attendees included high school teachers and technical college instructors, and representatives who were fortified with information on the need for future employees in the recreational marine industry and how and what to teach to entry-level techs to make them more ready for their first job. Skill-building mini-sessions were also held to help boost the professional knowledge of the instructors.

This was the second year for the program, which was held July 21 and 22 and featured a myriad of speakers including trade association leaders, educators, and industry representatives. The overall statement was that the need is high, collaboration is key, and the industry must continuously promote the benefits of a career in the marine industry.

The Next Generation
Steven Kitchin, vice president of Corporate Education at New England Institute of Technology, said that the three key points of data that are needed to drive decisions on building workforce training are demographics, technology, and the marine industry market. Highlights for the class of 2023, those born in 2001 who will lead us into the future, are that the primary use of their phones is for photos, half of their age population are people of color, and many do not have siblings. This information poses the question of how to attract people of color, and the dilemma of finding employees when the birth rate is trending down. It also shows how technology continues to change dramatically and quickly as it wasn’t long ago phones were only for making calls.

Sign up for the Marina Dock Age newsletter.Our newsletter delivers the latest news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive content covering the marina and boatyard industry, new products, and much more.

Kitchin provided further information on how the boating industry compares to the labor force overall. The boating industry supports 700,000 American jobs representing about four percent of the labor market. Education, health, and government are the top employers bringing a challenge of exposing potential workers to the opportunities in the relatively small marine sector. Despite the leading industries largely reflecting a workforce that would need an advanced degree, the American Labor Force reports that a majority of jobs today require skills training beyond high school but not a bachelor’s degree. Having marine trades training begin in high school, then continue to an associate degree program or apprenticeship, offers an ideal opportunity for the marine industry to fill a niche.

Kitchin shared that marine jobs are found to be profitable, widely available, and once someone is employed they are likely to stay with high job satisfaction. He also said that businesses are finding their employees largely through networking and social media, leaving vocational and post-secondary schools an untapped resource that the industry needs to reach.

Marine Trades Connects Industry To Schools
Lia Jaros, Workforce Development Manager, Marine Trades of Maryland shared how marine trade associations are bridging the gap between schools and industry. She said their organization not only acts as a job center but leads the efforts on workforce development for the industry in Maryland. “We’re uniquely positioned because we’re often on the floor with legislators which gives us opportunities to spread the word that businesses may not have. We also can tap into available resources,” Jaros said.

In her position Jaros spends most of her time canvassing schools to talk about the benefits of a marine trades career and the many available jobs. She says she is constantly visiting high schools, community colleges, and job fairs, but also builds bridges with builders to encourage them to set up apprenticeships and internships. Jaros has found the biggest myth is the belief that marine industry jobs are only seasonal, but that’s an easy myth to dispel. Once she gets in the door, she said the response to introducing marine programs is overwhelmingly positive and she works closely with the heads of each school’s trades programs to build an advisory committee that includes members of industry who advise how and what should be taught to keep it relevant to industry needs. “Automotive repair program directors are very receptive because they know not all the students in their classes will end up in auto repair shops and this provides another option for students to consider,” she said.

Support for Schools
While trade associations are actively promoting the industry, marine businesses need to support the training programs that schools create. A panel of experts from marinas, boatbuilding, and service companies explained how their organizations have built relationships with schools and students through facility tours, participating on advisory committees, and offering support through scholarships, internships, or funding for tools. Matt Jones, service leader at Diversified Marine said, “Shop tours are the most successful thing we do. The students get to talk to technicians and get a feel for the overall vibe of the place. We have fun and they see that.”

Kelly Cater, director of human resources for Groupe Beneteau said they had five students working for them over the summer. Three are going on to post-secondary education and two are continuing with Beneteau while they finish out high school. “The key is getting students inside our door and focus on manufacturing as well as engineering and marketing opportunities,” she said.

Holly Ashton, director of workforce development for Safe Harbor Marinas said, “Because we employ so many different skillsets, we have lots of internship opportunities, from marketing to mechanics. We also have many locations so we can easily offer field trips.”

The group discussed other ways to connect with schools emphasizing the importance of reaching out and not waiting for the schools to make the first move: Offer tours, donate prototype boats for hands on experiences, put students in a boat. “Get them excited and build dreams and memories—show them it’s fun and then look at what it takes to build that boat and ways they can contribute to this cool sport. They’ll become impassioned if we can get them in a boat,” said Cater.

Podlich reflected on the conference, “Our goal was to energize instructors, and help them realize how important they, and their work, are to the industry. We wanted to connect industry and instructors, and help them help each other. And we wanted the lone marine service tech instructor in a school to know they are part of a larger community and network created by ABYC Foundation. Ultimately, we are working to increase the number and talent of entry-level marine service technicians. We are thrilled at the participation we got!”