VIDEO: Massachusetts trade group event focuses on workforce issues

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Consultant Valerie Ziebron gave Massachusetts marine dealers tips for attracting and retaining technicians at Thursday’s industry meeting.

Consultant Valerie Ziebron gave Massachusetts marine dealers tips for attracting and retaining technicians at Thursday’s industry meeting.

Workforce was top of mind during a Massachusetts Marine Trades Association conference on Thursday that focused on the business of boating.

Consultant Valerie Ziebron gave three presentations that focused heavily on attracting and retaining service technicians at dealerships.

“Are you going to change young people to think the way you do? Or do we have to change us to think what they’re thinking, and how we can make what we’re offering attractive to them?” Ziebron asked during one session.

Ziebron urged managers to stop seeking the “perfect candidate” and start looking to invest in someone with aptitude and the desire to learn.

She suggested connecting with high schools to create job-shadow or co-op programs, finding retired military veterans who have some overlap of skills and creating apprenticeship programs that also pay.

“We pay a mentor a percentage of hours the apprentice turns. This gets them up and running and profitable ASAP,” Ziebron said.

Managers also should set clear and achievable goals and choose to invest early.

“It gives new hires reasons through your actions that you intend to keep them on staff forever from the start,” Ziebron said, quoting one dealer who had brought the median age of his service department down from 49 to 41 in a matter of months.

Jennifer James, undersecretary of the Massachusetts Cabinet of Labor and Workforce Development, discussed statewide initiatives designed to enhance trade education, workforce development and retention.

Massachusetts is at 3.5 percent unemployment, which is considered a “full economy,” James said. It added 3,000 jobs in manufacturing last year, an unusual number for the state, which has not added jobs in the sector for 18 years.

“That’s a really significant benchmark in how that industry started to rethink and retool how they do in the commonwealth,” James said. “The bigger administration has focused on shifting money to coastal waterways. My end is looking at workforce pipelines as we look at a tighter and tighter job economy.”

The budget expected from Republican Gov. Charlie Baker next week is expected to include grant funds to help move people through the vocational- and technical-school pipeline, James said. In Massachusetts many construction workers and trade workers, such as plumbers and electricians, are moved through apprenticeship programs, and the state would like to expand that to include other skilled workers, such as marine techs.

A panel discussion moderated by Terry Martin of 3A Marine asked workforce and training questions to a panel of four: Rick Shaw of MTTI, a career training school in Rhode Island and Massachusetts; Jamie Houtz, of The Landing School in Maine; Pat Desmond of 3A Marine; and Mike Cheney of Manchester Marine in Massachusetts.

Mike Cheney (right, holding microphone) of Manchester Marine, was one of four members of the panel on workforce and training. From left are Jamie Houtz of The Landing School; Rick Shaw of MTTI; and Pat Desmond of 3A Marine.

Mike Cheney (right, holding microphone) of Manchester Marine, was one of four members of the panel on workforce and training. From left are Jamie Houtz of The Landing School; Rick Shaw of MTTI; and Pat Desmond of 3A Marine.

Marine manufacturers should take more of an initiative to train skilled technicians, Cheney said.

“To put the responsibility on every boatyard to train technicians is not right,” Cheney said. “We’re all working with thin crews, and thin is now getting thinner because of age” as baby boomers retire.

Desmond has been producing marketing videos to show people that the industry is a smart vocational choice.

“There’s a little bit of a stereotype that smart kids go to college and the not-so-smart kids go to vocational school,” Desmond said. “If you look what kids are learning with technology today, it’s very sophisticated. It takes a smart person to work on some of these new systems.”

The MMTA is auctioning this Robalo to raise money for marketing marine programs in Massachusetts.

The MMTA is auctioning this Robalo to raise money for marketing marine programs in Massachusetts.

The MMTA is raising money for its Massachusetts Marine Trades Educational Trust via its online auction of a Robalo boat. This is the second year for the initiative, and it has raised more than $20,000, said Randall Lyons, executive director of the MMTA. The auction runs through Feb. 18 and will raise money for two causes.

Half the proceeds will go to The William Armstrong Scholarship Fund, named in honor of Bill Armstrong, a Boston boat dealer and founding member of the MMTA. The fund provides financial assistance to high school seniors or recent graduates in Massachusetts who are pursuing an education or training to work in the recreational boating industry.

The other half of will go to the Kids in Boating initiative, which is focused on developing support for youth boating programs and helping implement efforts to get more children on the water.

The boat, motor and trailer donation was made by 3A Marine Service Inc. of Hingham, Mass., and Robalo.

Part of its initiative is to market a video made by the educational trust that is designed to attract more people to the industry, Lyons said.

“We’re making sure we get that boating industry video out to as many people as possible,” Lyons said. “In 2017 we created the video and website, and in 2018 our goal is to market it. We’re trying to fill as many jobs as we can.”

Read more about the conference and its awards and recognitions in Monday’s Trade Only Today.

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