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Michigan marinas struggle to find mechanics

Michigan seems to be experiencing a shortage of qualified marine industry workers.

“I've called at least 300 people to offer them a $32-an-hour mechanics job, with benefits, and I can't get anyone to call me back,” Dave Unger, co-owner of Detroit's Custom Enterprise, told The Detroit News. And that's just in the past few weeks, he said.

His sole mechanic abruptly left in December with no explanation, Unger said. His upholstery/canvas repair worker left in August. That translates into a lot of backed-up work and delays for customers.

In the last few years he and his wife, Mary Unger, co-owner of the shop, have identified about 4,800 potentially qualified workers online and reached out to hundreds of them, but few reply, they said.

There is anecdotal evidence that marinas and boat repair shops are having problems filling jobs throughout the state, according to the Michigan Boating Industry Association.

"It's something I hear from members from many different parts of the state," said John Ropp, president of the Michigan trade group. "I don't think it's reached a critical stage."

The shortage also occurs nationwide. "We have heard, anecdotally, of a shortage of marine mechanics," National Marine Manufacturers Association spokeswoman Ellen Hopkins told the newspaper.

Starting technicians with some training earn about $14 to $17 an hour to repair fiberglass and aluminum boats, outboard motors and diesel engines, according to the Michigan trade group. Senior mechanics can expect a wage from $25 to $35 an hour, and possibly higher for larger watercraft, the association said.

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