If you’ve ever wondered how tough marine industry jobs can be, ask Sean Smith. As development director with the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, his job is to seek out various careers — from yacht broker to machinist to plastics fabricator — go learn them for a day or two, and produce a four- to five-minute video for a series called Salty Jobs.
“It’s hard to say what’s the hardest job because they all seem extremely hard,” says Smith, who is 30. “The unique thing about our industry is, you really have to be on your game because mistakes are expensive.”
Smith has developed a new appreciation for the patience that welders wield on the job, as well as more respect for how difficult it is to choreograph move-in and move-out for the MIASF-owned Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. “The Derecktor Shipyard haulout of a 164-foot yacht also looked really difficult — the whole yard seemed to be working together,” Smith says.
The Salty Jobs video series launched two years ago as a way to get young people interested in lesser-known marine occupations. The videos educate kids and parents about what jobs entail, how much people can earn doing them and what qualifications are needed. Every introduction includes the blurb, “The marine industry is a $12 billion industry regionally with over 142,000 jobs.”
The series has progressed to its second season, which is being produced now. The most recent episode includes a new cohost, Olympic sailing hopeful Erika Reineke.
One of the most effective parts of the videos is learning how each employee came to his or her position, giving insight into how people tailor their careers to their interests and phases of life. Mike Bellinder, a service technician with Quantum Marine Stabilizers, traveled the world working on yachts for the company until his daughter was born; now his job allows him to stay put.
“The career path Mike chose is a great example of opportunities in the marine industry both for travel and for family,” Smith says in the video, as he learns how to install a noise suppressor on a yacht.
A company name like Quantum Marine Stabilizers might not grab the interest of some students, but images of the quirky, cool artwork inside and outside its building gives viewers a completely different impression about what it might be like to work there.
Orestes Chaviano, a plastics foreman with AccuDock, is so passionate about floating dock construction that his enthusiasm in one of the videos is infectious. “I’m from Cuba, a beautiful island surrounded by water, so that’s why I love being involved with decks, docks and everything related to marinas and the water,” Chaviano says in the video. “I’ve been here for seven years and have done everything — boxes, decking, drilling. This is what I love to do. I have a boat, and every time I go out and step on the docks, I think, Oh my God, I did this.”
The videos, which highlight the industry’s close-knit culture and focus on work/life balance, can be equally important in swaying the parents of future employees, Smith says. Many videos showcase technician jobs where the “Space Age meets Stone Age” — computers, software, programming, all the things needed to do many of today’s hands-on marine jobs.
The number of schools engaged with the Salty Jobs program also continues to grow, Smith says. “We’ve done a lot of outreach with local schools and shared them with career advisors, giving them a tool to play in classrooms, and students can bring them home and play them to mom and dad,” Smith says. “We’ve seen that be very successful.”
During one episode, Smith learns how to build an adapter from an inside service manager who had been at Ward’s Marine in Florida for 30 years. Smith then learns how to install generators and a shore-power breaker from an electrician who had been at the company 20 years. Those are the types of details that get parental support of careers they know little about, Smith says.
“The big thing is use of video — that’s how everybody ingests information these days,” Smith says, adding that one of the biggest challenges has been getting information to parents. “It’s something parents can sink their teeth into when they can visualize it. They can understand it when their kid says, ‘It requires a two-year certification, and you know me, I’m good with my hands. And look, here’s a 25-year-old making $75,000 a year as a mechanic.’ ”
The videos highlight blue-collar, white-collar and entrepreneurial jobs, and show paths that people have followed to get where they are today. Denison Yachting broker Peter Quintal started out restoring antique boats in New York, then developed a passion for retail when boat-shopping friends asked his advice about what they should buy.
“There’s a huge entrepreneurial spirit in our industry,” Smith says. “The barriers to entry aren’t very high. You can learn a skill, get some experience, and in your late 20s or early 30s, you can buy tools, a pickup, get licensed and start a business. Our industry is full of stories like that.”
The traction is showing; the Marine Engineering Management program at Broward College in Florida is at capacity for the first time, and the school says it is placing 100 percent of graduates.
“The point of the series was for the benefit of the industry as a whole,” Smith says. “We’re highlighting our local members, but we believe it’s a format and model that can be used nationally.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue.