Awakening the awareness

By Nikki Storey

If you were to ask me, the number one trait required for success in the marine industry comes down to two words, problem solving. 

That is where my story in the industry began, as I was asked to join Great Lakes Boat Building School (GLBBS) in Cedarville, Michigan to spearhead a campaign to establish GLBBS as a nationally accredited institution. Receiving accreditation not only helped our students access financial support for their educational journey, it also cemented the school as a leader in marine training. Once that hurdle was cleared, we set our sights on building up the school’s curriculum and launched a capital campaign with the goal of raising $3.8 million to support a new certification course and facility on our campus. I am happy to share that GLBBS will break ground on the new building this summer which, once completed, will house the only Marine Electronics specialized program  in the country. 

As a Darlene Briggs Woman of the Year awardee, I am honored to join the ranks of talented women who have been recognized for their ability to solve problems and create impactful change within the industry. I feel a personal obligation to make a difference by helping pave the way for students of all backgrounds to launch successful careers of their own and build a life on the water. In a way, Great Lakes Boat Building School is founded in the spirit of problem solving, as we have taken a strategic approach in addressing the number one issue in the marine industry – developing and securing skilled, career minded employees. The instructional team at GLBBS establishes standards to ensure our students not only graduate with a solid foundation in technical training but can also pass the professionalism criteria. 

What makes us different than other programs and schools?

  •    Commitment – Students train onsite for 12 months. 
  •    Hands on skill development – Students spend over 80% of their time training on skill building hands on projects.
  •    Professionalism – Key to the success of our programs – failure to pass professionalism criteria results in program dismissal.

Our standards are high, but this results in strong metrics of student success – 100% career placement and over 94% student satisfaction scores over the last seven years. The training we offer, and the jobs offered post-graduation, are so highly sought after we have been waitlisting students at GLBBS. The moral of the story – students want marine industry careers! 

In order to prepare students for careers in the marine industry we must keep our finger on the pulse of what skills employers require and what obstacles are preventing them from finding the skilled tradespeople they need. Through this lens it became clear that there is a huge lack of awareness about marine industry careers, even in a water wonderland like Michigan, where boating has an estimated $7.8 billion dollar impact on the economy. The GLBBS team recognized this weakness and set our problem-solving skills to work by setting course on a career awareness campaign. By enlisting support from industry leading dealers, our educational institution has partnered with marine employers in ways that have never been done before. We launched this new career awareness campaign in the fall of 2022 by developing an exclusive opportunity for employers to engage with GLBBS through a new program – Marine Dealer Education Network (MDEN). Through an investment in our students and programs, we work with employers to build out opportunities for career awareness at their place of business. Recently our inaugural member, Irish Boat Shop, located in Northern Michigan, worked with GLBBS to host a Marine Trades Showcase event. This event brought in prospective students (and thus prospective employees) to participate in marine specific skilled trades activities. The showcase featured eight different hands-on activities, great local food, and giveaways for students who all came from all across Northern Michigan and Upper Peninsula.

The MDEN program continues to expand, more partners will be engaged, and additional awareness created. Jefferson Beach Yacht Sales (JBYS), with seven locations along the Great Lakes and one in Naples, Florida, signed on as our second MDEN partner and planning is underway for the first JBYS Marine Trades Showcase this fall in Southeast Michigan. Additional partnerships are under consideration and the first year we will limit participation to ensure our effectiveness. The goal is to create a national career awareness campaign with the support of the major manufacturers and dealers and provide hands-on engaging events that create a lasting impression on a diverse group of future students and employees. 

Last year’s Darlene Briggs Awardee, Roxanne Rockvam, wrote her Boating Industry article titled “Be the One to Make Change Happen” and her words truly resonated with me. I take making change happen seriously. An awakening of awareness is taking place, and solutions to the dire workforce issues through partnerships with educational institutions like GLBBS and employers is key to ensuring its success.  

Nikki Storey, President of Great Lakes Boat Building School (GLBBS), heads the only accredited marine trades institution in the Midwest Region. A native to Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula, where the school is located, Nikki grew up in a family of skilled trades people, giving her a strong understanding of the importance of trade-focused careers. With a degree in Business Management and a minor in Human Resources, Nikki also has many years of extensive Human Resources experience helping employers attract and onboard new staff. Nikki’s work has been recognized industry wide. In 2020, She received the Lighthouse Award from Michigan Boating Industry Association and was named as one of Boating Industry’s 40 under 40. In 2022, Nikki appeared in Boating Industry’s 2022 Women Making Waves and was awarded the Darlene Briggs Marine Woman of the year by Boating Industry and the MRAA Educational Foundation.

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