Building a better marine work force

Posted on Written by Richard Armstrong

workforce1Rhode Island is among the first states to develop boating trades apprenticeship programs

Two newly funded programs in Rhode Island could become vehicles for drawing fresh talent into the marine work force.

The Governor’s Workforce Board awarded a $142,788 grant earlier this year to the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association to create and launch a pre-apprenticeship and an apprenticeship program for the marine trades. Established in 2005, the board’s mission is to develop, implement and support strategies that increase and improve the skill base of the state’s work force.

“These programs complete the work force development pipeline our industry needs to grow and thrive,” says Wendy Mackie, chief executive of RIMTA, which has partnered with multiple businesses and educational institutions to launch the programs.

“Eventually this is going to help support getting this industry where it needs to go,” says Guy Gauvin, yard manager at the Hinckley Co. in Portsmouth, R.I., and chairman of the Education and Training Committee for RIMTA.

Gauvin was the leading proponent of the apprenticeship programs. He says he knows their value from personal experience. “In high school I took lot of vocational programs,” he says. “I was a typical kid in the early 1980s that still didn’t know what he wanted to do.”

A five-year apprenticeship program at the Electric Boat shipyard in Groton, Conn., earned Gauvin a “ton of knowledge that I still fall back on. It built a nice career path for down the road.”

The apprenticeship programs are the first of their kind for Rhode Island’s marine industry, and the Ocean State is among the first states to develop training programs such as these. (Others are Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin and Washington.) The state funding is destined for the pre-apprenticeship program only; the apprenticeship program will be employer-funded.

205 hours of training

Modeled after apprenticeship programs that have long been an integral part of New Zealand’s marine industry, the Rhode Island pre-apprenticeship program will consist of 205 hours of training for people 18 and older and is designed to give participants a pathway to paid employment in an entry-level position or to post-secondary or apprenticeship training.

The program will give participants hands-on skills training in entry-level areas such as painting, varnishing, composites, hauling, rigging, forklift and Travelift operation, shrink-wrapping, winterizing, commissioning and safety procedures. The pre-apprenticeship training is designed to generate “job-ready individuals,” RIMTA says. For the industry, that means graduates will be billable on hire.

The International Yacht Restoration School, the New England Institute of Technology, Hinckley Yachts, Hunt Yachts, Newport Shipyard, Bristol Marine, Freedom Boat Club, JH Restorations, Confident Captain, Kellogg Marine Supply, Gowrie Group and LaserPerformance/Vanguard have signed on to provide work placements, work experience and training for participants.

“As far as I’m concerned, we’re in the boating capital of America; the marine trades are such a critical component to the Rhode Island economy,” says Kent Dresser, president and founder of marine training and certification company Confident Captain, which will manage the boat-handling and dockside seamanship part of the program. “One of the nice things about these programs is they are opening up doors to bring qualified people into the industry. They provide a gateway [for talented workers] who might otherwise go into another industry.”

Dresser says his team will teach pre-apprentices dockside safety, the proper way to safely tie up vessels coming into a dock, pollution prevention when it comes to fueling or pumping out, and how to operate a workboat, among other basic skills.

Hinckley Portsmouth and Hunt Yachts will provide 40-hour internships over 5-1/2 weeks for pre-apprenticeship participants, starting with 10 people July 9. Applications for the Marine Trades Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program are posted at the RIMTA website (www.rimta.org) and will be available at youth centers and career centers throughout the state. The second cycle will begin in February 2014 with an additional 10 participants.

Hinckley apprenticeships

The Hinckley Portsmouth yard will be the first company to accept apprenticeship applicants. The first group will begin its training next January. Gauvin says Hinckley will accept as many as six apprentices every six months. Hunt Yachts and Bristol Marine have expressed an interest in joining the apprenticeship program.

Apprentices will be cross-trained, but they ultimately will choose a skill area to focus on. The program can take anywhere from two to five years, depending on the technical area and the skill level a participant has when he or she enters the program. Apprenticeships will consist of 4,000 to 7,000 hours of formalized and on-the-job training.

“Traditionally in the U.S., when you get into a trade, you immediately get specialized,” says Gauvin. “What this industry learned with this recent downturn and the long, slow, painful crawl out is the value of versatility. What worked 20 years ago will not work today, so skills need to be more diversified, and workers need to be cross-trained.”

The program will begin with a 90-day pre-apprenticeship program so candidates can make sure they are a good fit.

Gauvin says ideal candidates could be recent high school graduates who have some exposure to the trades and know college is not for them, graduates of a school such as IYRS who will enter the program with a good foundation of skills, or people who have the aptitude and desire to make the marine industry a long-term career.

RIMTA expects to have additional apprentice employers in place by next spring. Applications for the Marine Trades Apprenticeship Training Program will be posted at the RIMTA website in September and will be available at youth centers and career centers. Completed applications will be due in late October for applicants who hope to start at Hinckley in January. Potential applicants can contact the association’s work force development coordinator Jen Cornwell for information at jen@rimta.org.

Gauvin says programs such as these are essential, given the new reality of doing business. “A lot of companies that made it through to the other side realized the need to reinvent itself. The entire country has to reinvent itself,” he says. “Today, the customer expects more, demands more, and you have to rise to the occasion to meet that demand.”

If the industry needs additional motivation to change, it need only look inward at the graying of its work force, he says. An internal survey of Gauvin’s Hinckley Portsmouth staff revealed that the vast majority of his 97 full-time workers are past 40, and about 85 percent of them will be retiring within 15 years. (Gauvin is 49.) That makes it more important than ever that new hires are quality hires.

“As we hire, we look for someone who is diversified in their experience. We’re looking at, ‘What else can you do?’ At Hinckley we really want to invest in somebody, and we look at it as we’re investing for the next 25 years,” he says. “This industry will never be the same, and that’s good. You need to have a lot of traditions, but in terms of operating the business side of things you can’t go back to the way things were.”

This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue.

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