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American Boating Congress opens in D.C.

The event will gather more than 250 recreational boating industry stakeholders in Washington, D.C.
 The American Boating Congress opens its annual three-day advocacy event today in Washington, D.C.

The American Boating Congress opens its annual three-day advocacy event today in Washington, D.C.

The workforce shortage is top of mind for many in the marine industry as boat dealerships have a 21.6 percent deficit between the number of employees they’ve budgeted for and those they actually employ.

That’s according to a survey by the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, which shows that the average dealership has 15.3 full-time employees and 2.1 part-time workers. On average, respondents said they had budgeted for 3.3 full-time positions that remain unfilled, according to MRAA president Matt Gruhn.

This is one of many issues the industry will address as it convenes on Capitol Hill for the annual American Boating Congress. The event will gather more than 250 recreational boating industry stakeholders in Washington, D.C., to advocate on behalf of marine businesses. It opens today and runs through Wednesday.

Advocates will cover issues that include rising ethanol blends in fuel, recreational fishing, invasive species in waterways, public access to waterways and trade.

New this year will be an MRAA-run workshop about the workforce shortage during which the group will release its survey results. Gruhn said the group received an overwhelming response — 517 people, representing a cross-section of dealerships.

Of the unfilled positions dealers have, 59 percent are in the service department, Gruhn said. Almost 90 percent of the service department positions unfilled were technician jobs.

“Obviously we’ve got a huge problem,” Gruhn told Trade Only Today. “Engine repair and repower was noted as the most difficult skill to find among potential employees. More than 74 percent of respondents said they struggle to find workers with qualified skills when it comes to repair and repower, and 66 percent found skills deficiencies in technical knowledge in employees they’ve already hired.”

More than 51 percent hired someone with marine industry experience, “which tells me we’re just stealing employees from each other,” Gruhn said.

Forty-four percent of dealers hired someone from a technical school, but suggested that 96 percent of them are either poorly or only partially prepared for the job.

The MRAA session takes place Tuesday and is one of several workshops focusing on challenges the industry faces.

Segments of the industry attending ABC include boat, engine and marine accessory manufacturers, boat dealers, distributors and retailers, marine lenders and banks, members of the fishing industry, marinas, trade organizations, government groups, publishers from marine industry media and boat owners.

During the three-day event industry stakeholders will communicate on Capitol Hill the significance of the industry’s $121 billion annual direct, indirect and induced economic impact, in addition to the priority issues facing recreational boating.

Recreational boating supports more than 650,000 direct and indirect jobs and nearly 35,000 businesses nationwide. In fact, with the summer nearly upon us, an estimated 89 million Americans are expected to take to the water in the United States this year.

“The recreational boating industry has a key story to share on Capitol Hill. We’re touting our American manufacturing story, the number of jobs we create and sustain and we’re providing insight into how small businesses work alongside the legislative process,” National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich said in a statement. “Speaking to members of Congress during ABC is a priority for our industry advocates, and in this important election year our collective voices matter more than ever before.”

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