Tailored to the new economy, Fast Trac cuts tech certification classroom time from four days to one
Patrick Peck needs to update his already impressive resume. He became yard manager this year of Brewer Cove Haven Marina in Barrington, R.I., after serving as assistant manager for a decade. Now the American Boat and Yacht Council has awarded him certification as a master technician.
“It feels good and it means a lot,” says Peck, who has worked in the industry for 30 years — 23 of them at Cove Haven.
You must be certified in three areas to achieve “master” status. Already certified in two, Peck needed just one more. And rather than fly out of town for four days to take a classroom course, Peck and five other marina workers were able to stay in Rhode Island and get certified through a pilot program called ABYC Fast Trac.
ABYC’s Ed Sherman and Michael Keyworth, general manager at Cove Haven, created the program. “It’s quite different because heretofore everything was done in a classroom over a four-day period and now there is a one-day class commitment with a Q-and-A review of all the material and then an exam,” says Sherman, ABYC’s director of educational programming and delivery. Prior to the one-day session, the ABYC assigns the student an instructor, who sends study guide material. The instructor remains ready to answer questions via phone or e-mail as the student works through the material.
The pilot program was “remarkably successful,” Keyworth says. Seventy-one of the 80 technicians who enrolled were certified, a passing rate of around 88 percent. The technicians came from the 22 Brewer yacht yards from New York to Maine. Testing took place in March at Brewer Yacht Yard at Cowesett in Warwick, R.I. “A 75 to 80 percent pass rate is considered very good, so the Brewer scores show that the participants really put in the effort,” Sherman says. The Brewer employees took courses and exams for three certifications: ABYC standards knowledge, marine systems and marine electrical.
Fast Trac will benefit the entire industry and its customers, says Brewer Yacht Yards president Jack Brewer. “One of the drawbacks to boating is the lack of good service,” he says. “This will enhance the service capabilities throughout the industry, so I think it is an important program.”
Fast Trac has already had an impact on Brewer technicians. “They gained a great deal — not only in education but pride, and that is important for their futures and their morale,” Brewer says. “They were proud of themselves, which is very important.”
The six employees at Cove Haven gathered before the session for a study group and Keyworth awarded those who passed their certification tests a $100 bonus. The session was held on a Saturday. “They give you all the tools you need for success,” Peck says. “We had a couple of months to study. You do have to study, review the study guide and standards for whichever program you are shooting for. If you studied, paid attention during the review and were familiar with those types of tests, then you probably did well.”
One technician met with success twice. John O’Connor, 33, of Brewer Wickford Cove (R.I.) Marina, earned two certifications, Peck says. He signed up for the electrical course and then took on the ABYC standards program after the boatyard employee who was scheduled to enroll in that session left the marina. O’Connor passed both tests. “I told him it was disappointing that he didn’t have the commitment to go for three certifications,” Peck says in jest.
Eyeing the master technician title, O’Connor says he will seek a third certification. “It’s worldwide recognition and I can take that certification anywhere,” says O’Connor, who has been a technician at Brewer Wickford Cove for five years.
Tailored for the economy
Keyworth and Sherman began talking about a way to more efficiently carry out certification for technicians, boatbuilders and surveyors about a year ago at an American Boatbuilders & Repairers Association meeting. “We are really experimenting with alternative methods to deliver this training to meet the financial demands of this economy,” Sherman says. “Employers are not willing to spend the money to send someone away because of the lost opportunity in the workplace, the tuition and travel expenses. They are just not willing to do it anymore in any great numbers.”
Indeed, conventional certification isn’t cheap. “You send your technician off to a remote location — it might be in New Hampshire, or Maryland or Massachusetts,” says Keyworth, who has managed technician training for 15 of the 27 years he has worked for Brewer. “The cost of that ranges from $4,000 to $5,000 per employee. You have to take care of class tuition, travel, food and still pay [the employees].”
But Keyworth’s belief in ABYC standards drove him to find a way to give his employees a chance to become certified. “ABYC certification is important to me and anyone who manages in this industry because ABYC has established standards by which you can build and repair boats,” he says. “Their standards have proven to produce safer and more reliable boats.”
Keyworth, who holds seminars for Brewer technicians, discovered in a raise-your-hand survey that “our guys were not as ‘certified’ as we thought they were,” he says. “From the pass rate, you can tell they are incredibly knowledgeable and skilled and experienced. They just had not been certified.”
Yards such as Brewer can save thousands through Fast Trac and the ABYC has reduced its expenses, too, Sherman says. “We don’t have to pay an instructor’s travel time and lodging or his daily fee, so our costs go down,” he says.
The savings are so substantial that the council is able to drop the tuition for a certification course from $895 to $395. The lower price should attract other groups for enrollment in Fast Trac. “I’m thinking that the marine trade associations could gather enough participants to make it worthwhile,” Sherman says. The two big surveyor groups — the Society Of Accredited Marine Surveyors and the National Association of Marine Surveyors — could find Fast Trac useful, as well, he says. ABYC will need at least 35 students to hold a Fast Trac session cost-effectively, he says.
Looking ahead, Sherman sees the current version of Fast Trac as an interim solution. “Eventually we are going to be offering visually rich online training programs,” he says. “That’s on my agenda for 2012. So the outcome might be a hybrid of student learning online and then going to the class for the day.”
This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue.