I read a newspaper story today about a man in his 20s who, after being laid off by Hatteras Yachts, signed up for a N.C. community college computer tech program. In fact, community colleges across the state are reporting jumps in enrollment, due in part to laid-off workers seeking training in new fields, according to the thetimesnews.com. I would venture to guess that's true across the country.
With marine industry unemployment estimated at 70 percent, that trend scares me. If much of our experienced workforce has found employment in other fields, what chance do we have of attracting them back to the boating business when we need them? Chances are the industry won't see a return to the volume we experienced three or four years ago — at least not anytime soon — and there's no doubt that downturns do a great job of teaching companies how to get the most out of each of their current employees. But as the market starts to recover, we will need to rehire for some positions. And it's in the industry's best interest to rehire the high performers among those we let go, even though they're the ones most likely to find other jobs.
If we have to start from scratch when the time comes to fill some of those former positions, it'll not only slow our ability to ramp up our operations, but it also may be quite an expensive proposition. In a March article, Fortune magazine reported on the costs associated with layoffs, one of which it identified as rehiring. The authors of "The Carrot Principle: How the Best Managers Use Recognition to Engage Their People, Retain Talent and Accelerate Performance" report that the cost of replacing a departing employee can be as high as 250 percent of that person's annual salary.
So, where does the industry start in retaining these high performers? I have a few ideas. It begins with how we handle the layoff procedure, which I wrote about in a blog earlier this summer. If we can help a former employee find a position or pursue educational opportunities that will add to their boating business skills and experience, we're much more likely to have the opportunity to rehire them down the road.
Helping them stay connected with their marine industry friends and colleagues is another way to keep them close. Some boat manufacturers and dealerships, for example, have an "alumni" page on Facebook or other social networking sites that current and former employees can use to stay in touch.
Most marine businesses aren't ready to rehire yet. And given the tendency for the recovery of recreational industries to lag behind that of the larger economy, it may be a while before we're ready. But that time will come, and when it does, I hope we're prepared. Most of us can't afford not to be.
We invite boat business professionals and laid-off marine industry workers to share their plans for getting through the downturn and emerging stronger on the other side. Are there steps laid-off workers, companies or the industry at large should be taking to build a better future for themselves?