Teaching the Teachers

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The American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) yesterday kicked off the first-of-its-kind “Marine Service Technology: Educator Training Conference” at its Annapolis, Maryland, headquarters. The three-day event is designed to provide resources to educators already working with students in secondary and post-secondary marine technology vocational programs.

Organizers said the conference also will show educators who are not currently teaching marine technology programs how to get started. ABYC said that 55 educators, from 15 U.S. states, Canada and the British Virgin Islands, are attending the event.

“Participants in the conference range from a high-school auto-repair teacher thinking about teaching outboard repair, to tried-and-true post-secondary schools whose entire curriculum is based in marine work,” John Adey, president of ABYC, told Trade Only Today at the conference. “Schools who want a standards-based curriculum or want to expand their outboard classes to address new, systems-rich boats, will learn how to do this painlessly.”

Susan Zellers, executive director of the Marine Trades Association of Maryland, opened the conference. Zellers spoke about her organization’s Marine Trades Industry Partnership. It's a program with the mission of building a sustainable workforce for the marine trades in Maryland through on-the-job training partnerships with local marine businesses.

“Students can’t generally just stop in at a marina or boatyard and snag a job,” said Zellers. “Our program matches kids who want to work in the marine trades with businesses willing to take the time to train them up on the basics.”

Zellers said the program started with 18 businesses and now has 75. “For these students to succeed in our industry, we must get them started from the ground level,” she said. “That’s what this program does. We’re funded by a state Employment Advancement Right Now (EARN) grant and have come to this conference to talk with anyone hoping to start a similar program in their state. The money is there; you just have to find it.”

During the first day, attendees engaged in discussions about what works for them and what challenges they face.

“We have all the funds lined up but can’t find the right educators to carry out our programs,” said Sean Smith, director of development for the Marine Industry Association of South Florida.

Within minutes, Smith was surrounded by other attendees offering advice.

“Our program was nearly dead when I came onboard,” said David Mackey, a vocational teacher in Cadillac, Michigan, for the Wexford-Missaukee Intermediate School District. “But last year I had 45. There is a real interest and an absolute need for these types of programs. Not every kid belongs in college.”

Michael Connet, associate deputy executive director of Outreach and Partnership Development for the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) addressed some of the negative perceptions about training for the trades.

“There are these stigmas attached to secondary and post-secondary education programs like yours,” he told the group of educators. “They include mistaken beliefs that the programs are for students who cannot perform academically and that they are being trained for low-paying jobs.”

Connet said these misconceptions are being put to rest these days. He recalled a discussion with a parent who said her son was offered three positions right out of the training program, making 75 percent of what she makes as a registered nurse. Connet also commented on how his organization lobbies the U.S. Congress for the funds to keep these secondary and post-secondary programs alive.

Ed Sherman, ABYC’s vice president of education, gave the morning’s first session. He spoke to some of the challenges of training new marine technicians. “I’ve been teaching a wide range of people for decades,” said Sherman. “I think one place marine educators go wrong is starting out in the wrong place. Tearing down and rebuilding an engine is not step one in any successful training program. Showing up to work on time, basic workplace etiquette and safety are good places to start.”

Sherman also noted the importance of STEM (science, technology engineering and math) subjects and how they relate to a student with no concept of how an engine works or how to use monitoring equipment. “We get the best results when we start training with the tools that will allow them to advance to the next step, and those are often workplace basics that some programs simply don’t address,” he said.

During the conference, which concludes tomorrow, more than a dozen speakers will present sessions with titles like Selecting and Surviving your Curriculum Advisory Committee, Choosing Your Instructor, the Evolution of “Tech Ed” Shop, Setup and Safety, and others. Speakers alsoinclude experts from ABYC’s Marine League of Schools, which assists schools in curriculum development and instructor training/certification, trainers from Evinrude, and local marine industry leaders.

“Four months ago, this event was just a concept. Since then, we’ve seen huge interest in this ‘train the trainer’ event, both from the education community and from the marine industry,” said Sherman in a statement. “We’re equipping dozens of instructors who will show dozens of kids every year that our industry is the place for a great career and a great life. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

“This is the first of what we hope will become an annual event to support instructors from around the country, and beyond, who can make or break the future of boating,” Margaret Podlich, executive director of the ABYC Foundation, told Trade Only Today. “These are the people who are going to get the next generation focused, trained and running our industry.”

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