Workforce issues at center of Mass. marine trade conference

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The shortage of technicians is a problem in the Northeast.

The shortage of technicians is a problem in the Northeast.


A lot has changed in 20 years. In 2000, the iPod hadn’t debuted, and the median age in the United States was about 35, compared with around 38 now, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Fast-forward to 2040, and the fastest-growing segment of Massachusetts’ population will be people ages 80 to 84, said Margaret Podlich of the American Boat and Yacht Council Foundation, a nonprofit focused on countering the marine industry’s workforce shortage.

By 2035, demographers expect there to be more adults older than 65 than children — a foreboding signal to an industry that has long relied on young workers.

Around 170 people gathered for the Massachusetts Marine Trade Association’s annual Business of Boating Conference on Jan. 22-23 in Foxboro, Mass., to address the industry’s workforce crisis. Though the conference addressed key areas of concern for the industry — aging customers, reaching new demographics, surviving another recession — programming centered overwhelmingly on workforce development.

The boating industry is facing a nationwide shortage of technicians, but Massachusetts in particular has struggled because of the state’s focus on higher education, the tech industry and health care, which are economic drivers in the region.

Many young people in the Northeast are migrating south to start careers in areas with more affordable cost-of-living and housing options, said Steve Kitchin, vice president of corporate education and training at New England Institute of Technology.

Despite some foreboding data, Yamaha, which for years has been working to address the skills gap among employees, announced at the conference that it will bring an adult education pilot program to Massachusetts starting in February.

Yamaha Marine Group service division manager Joe Maniscalco.

Yamaha Marine Group service division manager Joe Maniscalco.

It’s Yamaha’s third 100-hour adult outboard training program. Similar programs have been implemented in Maine and Ohio, Yamaha Motor Corp. service division manager Joe Maniscalco told Trade Only Today.

Two courses are scheduled for next month, said MMTA director Randall Lyons.

The first will be held in two locations Feb. 4-March 28. Students will focus on learning at Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School in Danvers, and Cape Ann Marina in Gloucester will provide be the hands-on training venue.

Those classes will be held Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. so people who work day jobs will be able to attend, Maniscalco said.

The other session in the state will take place in Worcester Feb. 25-May 7 on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

“This is one of those things that the association got feedback from members about,” said Maniscalco. “They need workforce. The schools are saying they have a school and instructors, but they need industry. Yamaha, we gave them curriculum, resources, instructor training and updated product because so many were working with products that were extremely outdated. We’re teaching current, market-relevant skills.”

The 100-hour courses cost $800, but the MMTA is offsetting about half of it, reducing the fees to around $400.

Upon completion of the course, students will be certified in Yamaha’s Introduction To Outboard Systems, which will become a permanent part of their Yamaha training transcripts, said Yamaha’s Gregg Snyder.

“Once working at a Yamaha dealer, the student can continue their Yamaha certifications through our instructor-led training, all the way to Master Technician status,” Snyder said.

Many training programs have been focused at the high school and post-graduate level, said Mac Donaldson, a volunteer with the MMTA Educational Trust.

“It’s intended to be affordable,” Donaldson said. “People who have the opportunity can also apply for a scholarship to help offset additional costs.”

The MMTA Educational Trust and MMTA are helping support, promote and market the programs Yamaha has set up with Essex Tech and Worcester Tech. 

“As we continue to identify institutions that are willing to support this type of educational opportunity, Yamaha would continue to program those and bring valuable training to the areas,” he said.

This video outlines what students learn in the course.

Read more about the MMTA conference next week in Trade Only Today.

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