In search of tomorrow’s work force

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Companies showcase their businesses with an eye toward recruiting top local marine talent

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When the boating business turns around, there will be jobs to fill, and companies will be looking for skilled workers. That means it's a good time to get the necessary training to be ready when businesses start hiring.

That was the message at the Marine Trades Day held earlier this fall at the Melville Marine Complex in Portsmouth, R.I. About 100 people turned out for the Oct. 17 event, where 13 companies opened their doors for tours and discussions.

Though not a "job fair," several of the 27 companies at the nearly 55-acre complex, including The Hinckley Co., Hunt Yachts and New England Boatworks, sought to connect with potential qualified candidates - and encourage others to become qualified - for when employment prospects brighten.

"It's the perfect time to go to school, because when things come around in a couple of years, there will be jobs," says Carol Dietz, spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association's Education and Training Committee, which organized the event.

Last year, some 230 people attended a similar event in Bristol, R.I. This year's cold, windy weather from an approaching nor'easter likely kept people home, Dietz says.

David Frank, New England director for Hinckley Yacht Services, took a group of four on a tour through the shop, touting the industry's advances in technology and potential for career advancement. He noted that Hinckley was forced to lay off workers for the first time since 2001.

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"I would think that next spring, if the economy turns around a little, we'll have more work and we'll start hiring," Frank says.

Other builders echo that optimism. Ray Hunt, director of manufacturing and engineering with Hunt Yachts, says the company recently ended a fairly long dry spell by selling three boats in three weeks.

"We're not really hiring yet, but we are hoping to ramp up soon," Hunt says, giving a tour of the shop as a crew worked on a new Harrier 36.

At several recent boat shows, Hunt says he noticed an "enormous upturn" in "A-leads" on potential buyers, and the company is hiring a new salesperson.

Beck Bennett, 27, of Newport, R.I., was among those in attendance. "I'm here to look into the marine trades industry - to poke around, talk to some people and see what opportunities are here," he says. Heading in to tour the Hunt facility, Bennett, a former lobsterman, says he found work recently on a boat restoration project.

Hinckley's Frank says he took several groups through his shop during the three-hour open house. "The people I talked with were pretty keen on the marine industry, not just killing time," he says.

Karl Nordstrom, human resources and safety director with New England Boatworks, says a similar number visited the NEB operation, and he was enthusiastic about connecting with quality people.

"The beauty of this is it gives us a chance to show what we do," Nordstrom says, noting the custom carbon-fiber Nantucket 55 racing sailboat NEB had just launched and sea-trialed. The company is also working on a cockpit modification for a custom 145-foot megayacht.

"I talked to some good people, and we put their résumés aside for now and hopefully soon we can bring some on board," he says.

Nordstrom stresses to students that a career in the marine industry is 12 months a year, and schools like the New England Institute of Technology in Warwick, R.I., work with NEB to design courses. "When they graduate, they're just what we're looking for," he says.

NEB recently hired a welder to help fill an order for eight Naiad inflatables. Also, a Tampa, Fla., native with experience working at Island Packet Yachts  - now in Rhode Island taking a one-year boatbuilding course at the International Yacht Restoration School - got in touch with NEB. After a positive interview, he's going to complete his internship there.

"So there's another win for us," Nordstrom says, "and those come one at a time."

This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue.

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