Career event seeks to shore up worker shortages

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A work force shortage in the boatbuilding industry has some Rhode Island industry advocates concerned.

The 9th Annual Marine and Composites Industry Career Day, which will take place March 22 at the IYRS campus in Newport, seeks to help offset those concerns.

The free event, hosted by the IYRS School of Technology & Trades and the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association, is an effort to attract more people to boatbuilding in anticipation of one of the busiest spring seasons the industry has seen in recent years.

“The marine industry suffered such a blow from 2008 to 2010,” Brooks Marine Group president Neal Harrell said in a statement. “We lost a lot of talent to other industries and we lost a lot of talent to retirement. We have positions open all over the industry, all over the country, but we don’t have the skilled labor force to fill those positions.”

A skills-gap study being conducted for RIMTA by Maine-based Planning Decisions projects that this trend is not going away anytime soon. By 2020, Rhode Island’s marine industry will need to hire an additional 1,800 workers; 71 percent of those projected hires are to replace baby boomers who are aging out of the work force and taking their well-honed skills with them.

Although it is a challenge for the industry, the situation translates to opportunity for skilled workers. The study also tallies the average marine-industry salary in Rhode Island as being about 5 percent higher than the average salary in the state’s private sector.

This year’s Career Day has drawn employers from the largest geographic area in the event’s history, according to IYRS industry relations coordinator Holly Ashton. “We have employers coming from as far afield as Maine, Florida and Michigan. They are interested in meeting our students, as well as those with the appropriate skills who want to work in the composites and marine industries,” Ashton said.

Career Day will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the IYRS Newport campus at 449 Thames St. Registration is not required, but is recommended; registered attendees will receive additional information to help them prepare for the event.

There will be two seminars. At 11 a.m. Harrell will discuss “Navigating Your Job Search in Today's Economy” and give attendees a system for identifying, presenting themselves for and landing jobs in today’s marine industry.

At noon Neal Williamson of Hodgdon Yachts in East Boothbay, Maine, will talk about “Diversification of the Boatbuilding Industry and the Skills Needed to Succeed in a Changing Environment.”