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Emphasis is on the need for skilled employees

Marine training council holds a pre-IBEX conference and also sponsors seminar track at show

Attracting and training new workers, employee retention and team building were the pertinent issues discussed at the Conference on Marine Industry Technical Training, held in Miami Beach prior to the International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition and Conference.

The conference, the second COMITT to be held this year, was produced by the Marine Industry Training & Education Council. MITEC also, for the first time, sponsored a track of seminars during IBEX.

A recent survey of marine businesses found that a lack of skilled employees was a moderate or severe problem for more than 80 percent of respondents. Among those most needed are electrical specialists, engine repairers, electronic specialists and marine systems experts.

Most respondents said they feel on-the-job training is the most important way of maintaining and updating an employee’s skills.

“We are not an organized industry; we are not on the radar,” said Stacey Palmer of the Maine Marine Trades Association during a panel discussion on the problem of attracting workers. “It’s our discombobulation that’s part of the problem.”

Barry Acker, president of The Landing School, said the industry needs to get the word out about marine-related jobs, because many people don’t know those careers exist.

He also said there is a “cultural bias” against trade education.

“It’s part of the culture in this country that every child should go to a four-year college,” he said. “Grow boating is a good idea; grow careers in boating is a better idea.”

Panelists talked about programs that reach out to students of high school age or younger to let them know marine industry careers are an option. Also, the industry needs to enlist high school teachers and parents in the campaign.

Getting kids “bitten by the boating bug” is the key to the industry’s future, Acker said.
Retaining employees will require competitive pay and benefits, respect for the job they do, creating a fun work environment, and having clear goals for them.

Training
Valerie Ziebron of Yamaha Marine University and Greg McLaughlin of Revenge Advanced Composites, discussed the importance of training, specifically in-house training.

While training can be costly, especially in these times, it can be more costly not to train employees, said McLaughlin.

“Company warranties, liabilities, insurance claims, safety and continued sales of your product are enough reasons to train employees in company practices and quality methods,” he said.

Training, he said, needs to be exciting, creative and relative to employees to make it memorable.

Ziebron said it’s often people who make the difference in a company’s balance sheet, which is why training should be a priority.

Some guidelines for retention include: never criticize an individual publicly, involve as many team members as possible, set a time frame, use visuals, focus on what the audience is thinking, and always end on a good note.

“Educate, motivate and entertain,” she said, adding that role playing can be a good method of training.

Ziebron also discussed having an action plan for the office, which includes clear-cut job descriptions, giving employees the proper tools, giving employees meaningful praise, and offering learning opportunities.

“I’m extremely pleased at the way the day went,” said MITEC chairman Steve Kitchin. “It tells us this council is on the right track.”

About 70 people attended the day-long conference.

To participate in MITEC’s industry-wide labor needs assessment survey, visit: www.boatingcareerinfo.org.

This article originally appeared in the November 2008 issue.

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