Training the next generation of marine trades workers

Posted on Written by Elizabeth Ellis

As part of an effort to stimulate potential employees in marine industry careers, the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport, R.I., hosted the inaugural Rhode Island Marine Trades Day.

“It’s the first of its kind, and we are absolutely amazed by its success,” says Andy Tryska, 36, president of Bristol Marine and board member of Rhode Island Marine Trades Association. “We’re trying to increase awareness of the East Bay [region of Barrington, Bristol, East Providence and Warren] first and then throughout the state.”

Tryska is active in the educational programs of RIMTA, which sponsored Marine Trades Day.

About 300 people walked through the facility between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. Oct. 25, talking with representatives and picking up literature at the booths of more than 120 firms.

Exhibitors included the MotoRing Technical Training Institute and New England Institute of Technology; youth-oriented community assistance organizations such as My Turn Rhode Island and Mosaico Community Development Corporation; as well as several economic development agencies.

Dual objectives
Tryska says the show had two main goals: to provide an open house for those looking for a career change or career opportunities, and to increase the awareness of the marine trades impact on the economy statewide.

“There is this misconception that boating jobs are seasonal, low-paying dirty jobs,” says Tryska. “In fact, there are year-round positions that pay well, and employers are in need of people who are highly skilled in the newer technologies.”

Tryska says having the event at IYRS showed a perfect example of a clean, well-lit environment where people could learn and work.

“Rhode Island has the potential to grow its marine base over the next five years, and now it is about filling in the skills gap,” says Tryska. “That’s really the state of the situation.”

Studying systems
One such group featured at the show that is “filling the gap” is the IYRS Marine Systems facility in Bristol, R.I. About two years ago, IYRS partnered with the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) to develop the training program designed to teach students how to install, maintain and repair the major systems found in both power and sail boats.

Classes include a balance of classroom and hands-on study. Subjects include electrical systems, electronics, steering systems, fuel systems, diesel/gas, inboard/outboard engines and sail drive systems, marine pumps, on-board tankage, marine sanitation systems, marine LPG systems, AC/refrigeration systems, and firefighting systems.

“The weeks are divided up according to subject matter,” says instructor Geoff Alameida, 58. “We’ll have a week of tool use, then a week of basic woodworking — not sophisticated joining, but building platforms and cutting metals.”

Alameida’s classroom philosophy is a combination of lectures and hands-on practice. The facility contains four hulls students outfit like an actual boat.

“They get built every year,” says Alameida. “At the end of the year, we tear it up and start all over.”

Economy not a barrier
Alameida says some interested people are reluctant to go job hunting in the marine industry because it is so deeply into a down cycle. But plenty of opportunities exist, he says. Students who leave the systems school with ABYC certification are very attractive to employers because boats already built and sold still need to be repaired and maintained by skilled workers.

“All of them still have to be stored for the winter and then launched in the spring,” says Alameida. “There are job opportunities out there. All of my [seven] full-time students from last year are now all working in the industry.”

Alameida says students do not need prior experience with the marine industry, but they must exhibit an interest in the field and be highly motivated.

Non-traditional students
“At the start of each course, we begin with the very basics, such as what a piston is,” says Alameida. “We base our teaching on the fact that some of them might have not seen something like this before, and then they finish on a professional level.”

John Headley, for example, has always been interested in boats and was a computer technical consultant in Chicago.

“I moved the whole family up here, and this is something totally new,” says Headley. “My job in Chicago just played out. I was there for eight years and, long-term, it just wasn’t what I was cut out for.”

Headley admits outside of sailing as a child and powerboating on occasion as an adult, his knowledge of boats is limited. What he would eventually like to do is start a marine business and do boat rehabs on the side.

“I chose IYRS because it was centrally located, and many of the other places I looked at were all very remote,” says Headley. “I have a wife and two small children, and I wanted to take them to a place that was close enough to civilization.”

Leo Ragasa says he moved here from the Philippines after working on boats for seven years in Micronesia.  He is being sponsored for extra training by a friend in New Mexico and says he hopes this will qualify him for a better job.

“It is a great opportunity to be here,” says Ragasa, 39. “I’m just trying to get the most out of it that I can.”

Real-world test
Alameida says every student at the end of the course must take a five to six-week “externship” that involves working with a potential employer to see how they cut it in the real world.

“Often, if the company likes their work and is satisfied with them, they will hire them,” says Alameida. “Our accreditation demands that we provide resources and assisting in good job placement.”

Alameida notes that the IYRS Marine Systems program is supported by the Rhode Island Marine Trade Association and Shannon Yachts, which donated three hulls to them in the last year.

“We started with half this size last year and next September we’ll be in a double bay that’s 50 percent larger than this,” says Alameida. “This has been a wonderful project and we’re so grateful to have the support of the industry.”

Good turnout
Guy Gauvin, 45, general manager of Goetz Custom Boats, also in Bristol, says he was pleasantly surprised with the turnout at the show.

“We had over 60 visitors from throughout New England and Canada,” says Gauvin. “From that total, 12 of them were solid job applicants and the remaining visitors were interested in learning more about the marine industry.”

Gauvin says many visitors were pleased and surprised to find the new facilities were air-conditioned and free of dust and fumes, and that boatbuilding was so technologically advanced. As for potential employees, Gauvin says Goetz looks to applicants coming from IYRS, New England Institute of Technology and The Landing School in Maine.

“The best applicant would have at least five years experience in the industry and have complete experience using carbon fiber, but those applicants are few and far between,” says Gauvin. “We need ambitious applicants with good work ethics that are willing to learn. If we can find that applicant, we can turn them into a professional boatbuilder that can earn a very good and stable living.”

Gauvin believes the employment pool will grow, citing trends toward larger yachts and the need to modernize and upgrade to compete on a global level.

Tryska says he expects the next Marine Trade Show will be held in the spring on the West Bay region of the state. www.rimta.org

This article originally appeared in the December 2008 issue.

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