Energy and enthusiasm at Rhode Island career fair

Forty-seven companies from seven states and about 200 potential employees crowded a marine industry job fair in Newport, R.I., in early March.

Forty-seven companies from seven states and about 200 potential employees crowded a marine industry job fair in Newport, R.I., in early March.

An estimated 200 job seekers attended the 10th annual Marine & Composites Industry Career Day in Newport, R.I., a turnout that bodes well for an industry finally on the mend and, in many cases, starved for focused, motivated workers who can grow with a company.

“In terms of hiring, we have the highest number of positions open from marinas, dealerships and manufacturers in our 12 years of serving the industry,” Brooks Marine Group president Neal Harrell told Soundings Trade Only at the March 7 event. “The latest and most encouraging trend is that we’re finally seeing an upswing on the manufacturing side, particularly in the 30-foot-and-under boatbuilding segment.”

Harrell says his marine-specific recruiting firm was retained to fill 37 industry positions nationwide. For perspective, that’s double the number it had a year ago and a long way from the summer of 2009, when it had none.

He says the industry is recovering from “a perfect storm” — the Great Recession, the graying of the work force and a collectively inadequate job of attracting new talent — by delivering the message that good-paying jobs can be found here.

“The good ones are gainfully employed elsewhere and risk-aversive and more cautious to changing career paths,” Harrell says. “They learned lessons during the recession and feel a sense of loyalty to the companies that stuck with them during tough times.”

The industry should recognize that the average pay is better in the RV, automotive and aerospace sectors, Harrell says. “We need to be more competitive pay-wise in our industry,” he adds. “We need to think outside of the box and stop poaching from each other by offering another buck to get an employee to come across the street.”

Harrell says relocation difficulty is the No. 1 barrier to accepting a job offer, and he encourages employers to be creative and tip the scales with incentives such as paying a relocation fee or the first month’s rent for new hires.

Harrell says demand among his clients is the greatest for engine and electrical system technicians on the service side and engineering, design and product development specialists on the production side.

Career Day drew about 200 job seekers this year, says Wendy Mackie, CEO of the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association, which co-hosted the job fair with the International Yacht Restoration School at the IYRS campus in Newport.

“We recognize this as an excellent opportunity to connect job seekers with employers,” she says. “The best part is that people get hired out of this event.”

Representatives of 47 manufacturing, marina and service companies from seven states (compared with 36 businesses last year) were on hand to discuss career opportunities with students, new graduates and career changers.

Alison Riendeau, 34, is a student in RIMTA’s semiannual six-week Marine Trades Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program, which offers hands-on training in areas that range from safety training to skills such as carpentry, boatbuilding, marine systems, welding, composites, painting and varnishing, forklift operation and rigging. Her work experience includes a stint as an English-as-a-second language tutor. She attended the event to distribute her resume and discuss career opportunities.

“I grew up on the water and on boats,” the Rhode Island native says. “I’m old enough to know what I want to do, and this program is a good fit for me.”

Composites and welding are among the skills that Riendeau would like to master, but she is open to anything in the field.

“I know I want to work with boats,” she says.

Jesse Malo, 28, is another state native in the same program. His father was a shell fisherman and his mother a marine biology teacher. He found a love for sailing while earning a degree in wildlife conservation at the University of Rhode Island and has become hooked on the sport.

“It’s all about connecting my passion with my career,” he says.

The pre-apprenticeship program drew 40 applicants for the winter session, nine of whom were accepted. It ends later this month (a second session is held during the summer) and it boasts a 92 percent job placement rate for graduates.

Despite the enthusiasm on all sides, several exhibitors expressed frustration with what is perhaps a generation gap, specifically in regard to work ethic.

“It sounds simple, but the key to a good employee is show up on time, have a strong work ethic and contribute,” says Matt Dunham, president of Clear Carbon & Components, a diverse composites manufacturer based in Bristol, R.I. “That’s true in any industry. The sky is the limit for employees who step up and contribute. It’s as simple as that.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue.


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