The International Marina and Boatyard conference had a full first day, with strong attendance at the seminars, a busy expo floor and product demonstrations from companies like Dockwa, Brunswick Corp.’s On Board and others. Show organizers also hosted a casino night.
The 12 seminars included breakout sessions on design and engineering, operations, boatyard and services, workforce and future trends.
Marine business leaders were told they need to become more of a part of the discussion about workforce issues, according to a panel of experts in the “The Business and Politics of Workforce Development” session. Pamela Lendzion of ABBRA hosted the session, joined by panelists Katie Spiker of the National Skills Coalition and Rob Garcia of Business Leaders United.
Lendzion said the boatyard sector is facing skill and talent gaps in workforce recruitment. “Our industry tends to react rather than be proactive,” Lendzion told the group of marina owners and boatyard managers during the seminar. “That needs to change. As business people, we need to do whatever it takes to address the shortage of skills training. We need to work with political leaders in Washington, take advantage of grants and look into apprenticeship programs.”
Lendzion said that ABBRA had looked at adopting the New Zealand Marine Trades Association apprenticeship training program but couldn’t get the necessary grants. “It answers many of the problems our industry needs in terms of workforce and skills development,” she said.
Spiker said that small businesses have had an impact on implementing policy changes for workforce development. “There are a number of senators and representatives now paying attention to these issues,” said Spiker. “The good thing is that workforce development is a politically agnostic issue, so there is support on both sides of the aisle. What we need now is for business leaders to be part of the conversation. They need to become a stronger voice at the table.”
Pending legislation like the Higher Education Act, Perkins Technical Education and the infrastructure package could have a significant impact on workforce issues, says Spiker. She recommends that owners of marine companies invite Congressional representatives to their businesses so the representatives understand specific issues they are facing. “You can also find people at your local chamber of commerce to be advocates for your industry,” she said.
Garcia said that some of the grant programs are not suited to practical issues around workforce hiring and training. For instance, students cannot get Pell grants for short-term technical training. “Many of our employers joke about how someone can get a Pell Grant for French literature but not skills training,” he said.
Garcia also noted that, until recently, any discussions about workforce have not included the employers. “That is finally changing,” he said, noting that on recent congressional visits, company owners involved with his association also brought workers. “These meetings brought up a new dialogue about how companies are investing in workers,” he said. “It has helped reframe some of the thinking around these issues.”
The group seemed generally optimistic about workforce development moving forward, citing a recent executive order from President Trump to revise apprenticeship education around the country. “We’re seeing a lot of energy there,” said Spiker.