The phrase “good help is hard to find” has never resonated more than in the current marine industry. Retirements, rising wages and the Great Resignation have removed many employees from the workforce. Companies are being forced to get creative about recruiting and mentoring prospective employees.
Here’s a look at several companies that have implemented new ideas.
Since the early ’90s, Dometic’s Vancouver operation, which has more than 500 employees, has had internship programs that, in Canada, are called student co-op programs. Every year, 50 to 60 students from local universities work as paid Dometic employees.
It’s a strategy that succeeds, as evidenced by vice president and general manager Brian Dudra, who arrived at Dometic Vancouver in 1995 as a University of British Columbia engineering student. “These programs are a valuable recruiting tool for our company,” Dudra says. “About one-third of our full-time hires spent a college term at Dometic through one of our university mentorship programs.”
Dometic benefits in several ways from this initiative. It gets workers whose wages are partially subsidized by the Canadian government, and it receives feedback from interns that allows the company to raise its profile, and attract the best and brightest students. Management also gets an in-depth look at prospective full-time employees.
To bolster the number of prospective employees and train those entering the industry, Yamaha has created several programs that cost participants little or nothing, but are beneficial to all parties concerned.
“Our Technical School Partner (TSP) creates a student-to-technician pipeline for our dealers,” says Joe Maniscalco, Yamaha’s general manager of Marine Service. “We now have 116 schools that participate in our program throughout the country.”
Yamaha provides technical schools with instructor-led courses and tools. TSP starts with “Introduction to Outboard Systems,” which includes textbook materials and hands-on learning experiences. After completing that course, advanced courses are available, such as Yamaha’s Maintenance Certification Program, which is based on the scheduled maintenance procedures for Yamaha outboards. Later, employees can further their education through Yamaha Marine University, which has 4,000 hours of progressively advanced training on up to a Yamaha Marine Master Technician certificate.
One of the latest initiatives is the Yamaha Marine Apprentice Program, which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor and is eligible to receive state grants to defray costs.
Great Lakes Boat Building School
This school was established in 2005 to teach the skills and craftsmanship of wooden boatbuilding, but has since expanded its curriculum to include modern boatbuilding and repair techniques.
Tiara Yachts and Gage Marine have provided sponsorships to fund the majority of a student’s tuition for classes in “Comprehensive Career Boat Building.” But, according to director of development Thomas Coates, “They like the fact that students have a partial investment in their education and have some skin in the game.”
Classes are structured to mimic a real-world working environment, and focus on teaching not only technical skills, but also customer service. In the past six years, there has been a 100 percent placement rate for graduates.
In 2020, an exclusive partnership was forged with Mercury Marine, allowing students to access Mercury’s online education system and earn Mercury Marine technician certifications. The program has also expanded training to the local high school to offer marine “Career Technical Education” classes.
American Boat & Yacht Council
In addition to establishing standards for the boatbuilding industry, the ABYC Foundation has refocused its efforts to include workforce development to help build a training pipeline.
Historically, most of ABYC’s classes were held in person, but the pandemic forced the creation of online classes for training and credentials such as “Electrical Certification” and “Systems Certification” at teachboats.org. The ABYC also started a free, weekly webinar series about technical topics.
The ABYC also works with many technical schools through the use of the “Fundamentals of Marine Service Technology curriculum,” and is involved in the SkillsUSA national competition to help identify the best student technicians.
In response to the worker shortage at some Mercury dealerships, there have been increased service delays and service restricted to customers who purchased boats and motors there. To counteract this situation, Mercury Marine implemented several initiatives.
In January 2020, the company created the role of dealer workforce recruiting and development manager within field service. This role helps to enhance the training relationship between Mercury Marine and marine systems programs at technical high schools and colleges. A total of 91 high school and post-secondary schools have a government vocational account with Mercury Marine; those accounts provide access to purchase products and equipment to use as teaching aides at off-retail pricing.
Mercury Marine also offers product training, dealer development training, and legacy product training with 39 global locations for hands-on training, and an online platform for self-paced learning, to support the Mercury dealer network. Dealers pay an annual training fee for unlimited access to Mercury University and a hands-on classroom curriculum. There is no charge for government vocational accounts, so schools participate on the online platform (Mercury University) at no charge.
In April 2022, Mercury Marine launched the Propelling Marine Technician Careers Scholarship program to support high school students or graduates going into the marine technician field. The program offers several scholarships intended to alleviate the financial stress of post-secondary education.
This article was originally published in the November 2022 issue.