Invest or Perish

Every marine business must invest in a workforce development strategy
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The shortage of skilled workers is being addressed by small and large marine businesses in different ways.

The shortage of skilled workers is being addressed by small and large marine businesses in different ways.

Workforce development is a comprehensive strategy designed to enhance economic stability and prosperity for a business, its employees, and the families and communities to which they belong. It is a critical part of creating a positive and productive culture inside a business.

While most businesses recognize the need for marketing plans and budgets, few recognize the importance of assessing the skills their workers need and the skills they might not possess. Business leaders often don’t recognize the need for a workforce development plan or budget. Most, however, agree that their greatest asset is their workforce.

Marine industry employers face a critical need for skilled workers. Employers report not enough job applicants and applicants who lack the technical skills required to fill positions. Many also lack critical “soft skills” and have no relevant work experience. The skills gap, poorly developed talent pipeline and skills deficiencies of existing workers have many wondering how they will sustain their businesses. The good news is that there are a number of solutions that are proving effective.

Work-based Learning

One strategy for filling skill gaps is work-based learning programs. Fifty-three percent of U.S. jobs are middle-skills positions, meaning they require some sort of education or training beyond high school but not a four-year degree. Yet only 43 percent of the workforce is trained at this level. The mismatch prevents businesses from taking advantage of emerging opportunities.

Work-based learning, such as nationally registered or industry-recognized apprenticeships, are key strategies for meeting the needs of businesses and workers. These programs work well for incumbent workers as well as entry-level employees. They also have proven to be an effective way to build a productive workforce with the specific skill sets that businesses require. Studies show that for every dollar spent on apprenticeships, employers receive an average $1.47 return in increased productivity, reduced waste and greater innovation. Businesses also report lower employee turnover, and enhanced employee engagement and loyalty.

The Marine Industry Training and Education Council is developing a “Train-the-Trainer” program for employers and experienced technicians that will help them design and implement their own in-house training programs or enable them to use programs developed by others.

Expand Opportunities

Youth face significant employment barriers in today’s economy. The unemployment rate for Americans between 18 and 24 is double the national average. Each year more than 1 million students drop out of high school. Industry-driven technical education, however, is beginning to come back in secondary schools, which might help reduce the number of potential marine workers who drop out.

Employers should visit their local high schools and request that they offer training for the skills that their businesses need. Many hands-on learners are missing an opportunity to explore careers in the recreational marine industry. The American Boat and Yacht Council created a secondary-school program called “Fundamentals of Marine Technology,” with a teacher’s guide. Promote this course to your local high school, and recruit students from your community.

Training Standards

Training standards, which are different than safety standards, ensure that programs are consistent, of high quality and consist of industrywide, agreed-upon requirements, learning outcomes and assessment criteria. Our business operators agree that standards for work-based training programs must include soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, leadership and teamwork. We also need tools that assess not only the abilities of entry-level workers, but also their willingness to learn.

Industry Challenges

Employer-driven, competency-based training can build our workforce for today and for the future. Competency is a combination of knowledge, skills and behavior that can be verified and certified by testing an individual’s ability to perform. Competencies predict performance. The marine industry must be able to verify and certify the experience, knowledge, skills and performance of its workers, based on industry standards determined by industry veterans with years of experience.

Competency-based curricula and assessment are the foundations of credentialing in many professions. Competency is a more comprehensive characterization of performance that indicates how effectively the knowledge and skills are used to carry out a job. Moreover, certification can assure the public that the specialist has successfully completed an approved training program and evaluation, including testing designed to assess knowledge, experience and skills.

Career Awareness

The marine industry tends to react to a crisis, rather than being proactive to avert it. It’s no surprise that we are at the back of the line when it comes to attracting people to work in our niche. The need to develop an awareness program to reach potential workers has been obvious for a long time. Businesses require workforce development to stay alive. An investment in time and money can help create a proficient, technically skilled workforce. Our solution has three equally important components that must be addressed by business and industry: career awareness, upskilling existing employees and building a pipeline for entry-level workers.

Our industry segments are interdependent, but they have different training needs. Larger companies typically can afford to employ training developers or find providers to meet their needs. Small businesses, which comprise the majority of the marine industry, often have a difficult time finding relevant training. The costs of developing, implementing and running work-based learning models can be prohibitive.

Schools base their educational offerings on the number of students they can put in seats. They are happy to produce training for companies willing to train a large number of people. Small businesses need to work together to develop or purchase training. The survival of small businesses is critical to the survival of the industry.

As an industry, we have to do a better job developing career awareness, attracting workers and persuading employers to create training standards for work-based learning. Workforce development requires an investment and time commitment from us all.

Pamela Lendzion is president of the Marine Industry Training and Education Council and executive director of the American Boat Builders and Repairers Association.

This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue.

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