The first engine Abram Kelly-Cruz disassembled was a John Deere lawnmower engine.
“I had no organizational skills; oil was everywhere,” Kelly-Cruz said. “I put it back together and noticed four pieces underneath. So I stayed after school and kept putting it back together and actually got it working. It didn’t work when I took it apart.”
Kelly-Cruz was one of 130 students attending the New England Boat Show’s Career Day to learn about the various jobs and hear from industry members, many of whom took an unorthodox path to the positions they hold today.
Kelly-Cruz and Keeron Wilson both attend The Landing School in Maine. Wilson, who is from Bermuda, had done fiberglass work at home but knew nothing about systems until he got a scholarship to attend the school.
“They help you out when you need it,” Wilson said.
John Bernier, service and marina manager at Goose Hummock Marine on Cape Cod, Mass., told the students he drove his dad crazy taking things apart.
“My story is technical,” Bernier said. “I’m a gearhead. I’ve always been a gearhead. I just love working with my hands. I remember doing that lawnmower thing; if you switch a pulley it goes a lot faster.”
One of the themes of Career Day was that the marine industry is not seasonal, even in areas with seasonal boating. “These are full-time jobs,” Bernier said. “We don’t lay off in the winter, even on Cape Cod.”
A willingness to learn and listen is more important than technical knowledge for students getting started, said Ron Zastocki, a district service manager with Yamaha.
Zastocki speaks with students in this video.
The seven-person panel included Bernier and Zastocki, as well as Larry Russo from Russo MarineMax; Alyssa Linkamper, dockmaster at Onset Bay Marina and workforce Liaison for the Massachusetts Marine Trades Association; Matthew O’Conner, owner of 11 Freedom Boat Clubs in the Northeast; Wally Foster, owner of Foster Rigging and Yacht Service; and Peter Friedell of Boston BoatWorks.
Foster took a different approach to becoming owner of Foster Rigging and Yacht Service. After attending Florida Institute of Technology to become an oceanographer, the recession hit. Foster couldn’t find a job, so he and some friends bought a sailboat but wound up damaging it. Foster took over the repairs when the insurance money ran out, which led to starting his own business.
“You’re going to hear a lot about passion,” Foster said. “Most of us in this industry are very passionate about our jobs.”
They also heard about pathways that began modestly.
O’Conner considers himself “lucky” that he’s never had a job off the water. “I started on a whale-watch boat. I was chief head-cleaner,” he said. “The thing about boating is you’re dealing with people at their best. You’re dealing with people on their great days. The industry, the people we work with, are genuinely friendly people that want to see people out having fun. It’s an awesome industry to get into career-wise. It affords you some really awesome opportunities.”