by Cynthia Goss
The ninth Annual Marine & Composites Industry Career Day takes place on March 22 at the IYRS Newport campus. This free one-day event, hosted by IYRS School of Technology & Trades and the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association (RIMTA), gives employers an opportunity to connect with career seekers—but as far as employers are concerned, Career Day can’t come soon enough. This spring is expected to be one of the busiest in the boating business in recent years, but just as the marine industry continues its post-recession rebound, there is a perfect storm brewing in the marine workforce.
'The marine industry suffered such a blow from 2008 to 2010. We lost a lot of talent to other industries and we lost a lot of talent to retirement,' says Neal Harrell, president of Brooks Marine Group, a Newport-based recruiting firm that specializes in the marine industry. '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* projects that this trend is not going away any time soon. By 2020, Rhode Island’s marine industry will need to hire an additional 1800 workers; 71% of those projected hires are baby boomers who are aging out of the workforce and taking their well-honed skills with them. Although a challenge for the industry, the situation translates to opportunity for skilled workers.
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,' said Ashton.
According to RIMTA CEO Wendy Mackie, the perfect-storm scenario in the marine workforce is not news to the industry, and organizations such as RIMTA, area trade schools, and local High Schools have worked in concert for several years to offer programs that give individuals a base of training on which to launch their careers.
'In our region, we are extremely fortunate to have trade schools like IYRS, the New England Institute of Technology, and MTTI; High Schools with amazing teachers who are getting young people excited about the marine trades; and a high concentration of marine companies that are working together to solve our workforce challenges,' says Mackie. 'We are all working together to cultivate new talents, but in the meantime, it is a buyer’s market for anyone with skills that apply to the boating business—whether those were gained around boats, or they are skills such as carpentry or electrical and electronics expertise that can transfer to the marine trades.'
The skills-gap study* conducted for RIMTA tallies the average marine-industry salary in Rhode Island approximately 5% higher than the average salary in the state’s private sector.
For individuals who have a passion for boats but lack the requisite training, Career Day organizers have launched a Training Center where attendees can talk with trade schools such as MTTI and IYRS, gather information on programs coordinated by RIMTA, and even meet with New York-based Oakcliff Sailing School, a unique organization led by world-class racer Dawn Riley where students can learn to compete in and manage grand-prix racing campaigns.
Many programs give individuals quick access to jobs, such as the six-month Composites Technology and Marine Systems programs at IYRS, the 30-week Marine Service Technician program at MTTI, or the 5.5-week Marine Trades Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program coordinated by RIMTA with area schools and businesses. Funded by an Innovative Partnership grant from the Governor’s Workforce Board RI, there is no cost to participants taking the pre-apprenticeship program; the next session is slated for this summer.
Career Day takes place Saturday, March 22 from 10:30 AM to 1 PM at the IYRS Newport campus at 449 Thames Street. The event is free. Registration is not required but is recommended; registered attendees will receive additional information to help them prepare for the event.
Two seminars will be offered during Career Day. At 11 AM, Neal Harrell of Brooks Marine Group 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 12 noon, Neal Williamson from Hodgdon Yachts (East Boothbay, Maine) will talk about 'Diversification of the Boatbuilding Industry and the Skills Needed to Succeed in a Changing Environment.'
More information, a list of participating companies, interviews with Career Day seminar leaders and employers, and a registration link can be found here.
*The skills-gap study is being conducted by Planning Decisions of Portland (Maine) utilizing 2012 data gathered by the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training and RIMTA.