By Margaret Podlich
Thousands of polite, pulled-together, 16-22 year olds descended on Atlanta during a sweltering week in June. They hailed from high schools, post-secondary technical schools, and community colleges from around the country. All students were required to dress appropriately for their trade, so some were in white double-breasted chef coats, others in pressed Carhartt khaki top and bottom with construction boots, and some in the default black slacks/skirt with dress black shoes, white collared shirt, and maroon blazer. The ethnically diverse crowd exuded excitement and energy, and when they weren’t in competition, they were actively trading state pins.
What planet had we landed on?
Welcome to the SkillsUSA Championship at the National Leadership & Skills Conference, a powerhouse of a student-run contest launched in 1967 that now involves more than 17,000 classrooms, with more than 340,000 students and instructors. SkillsUSA “empowers its members to become world-class workers, leaders, and responsible American citizens” and boasts 650 national partners – businesses, trade associations, and unions.
The 5,200 students in Atlanta had already won their state competition. Now at Nationals, 108 disciplines were to be contested, ranging from construction, and fire and rescue, to appliance repair, robotics, and welding. The stakes: bragging rights, scholarships, job offers, tools, and even prizes for their school’s shop space.
So how does this relate to boats? In 1999, marine service technology was added to the multiple transportation-related and robust competitions for like-minded wrench-turners. Since 2016, Yamaha Motors has been carving more bandwidth for boats. “SkillsUSA brings the best of the best aspiring technicians together in a competition,” says Joe Maniscalco, Yamaha’s General Manager - Marine Service. “That is a gold mine of opportunity for Yamaha to build careers.”
The 20 students at the national marine service competition won their one-day state competition before being invited to Atlanta, Ga. Gregg Snyder, Yamaha’s Marine Training Manager, has served as the event’s National Technical Chair for this event since 2018. He explains, “On two successive afternoons, each student performs and is assessed on pre-defined tasks that are common to a marine technician, like electrical testing, precision measurement, boat component identification, fuel system testing, and compression testing. They are also assessed on soft skills, appropriate/professional dress, and interview acumen.”
But that’s not all. Back on the convention center floor, hundreds of industry businesses and post-secondary schools have figured out this is a great recruiting week. Volvo Trucks, John Deere, and military recruiters hosted interactive booths and were talking with attendees, while Mercedes and BMW brought their sexiest new cars, enticing people to talk. All were looking for technicians, and mechanics, and all were well-positioned to vacuum young people into their training programs and away from boats.
We have an opportunity for marine businesses to change that.
After participating in Atlanta, ABYC’s president John Adey gushed, “Participation at SkillsUSA this year revealed a ripe opportunity that we’ve been missing.” His message to others: “Don’t ignore this. Do something with SkillsUSA, at the state or national level. You can attend, support, exhibit and/or judge. There are plenty of ways to get involved.”
“We need, and we want, other industry partners to join this effort, and to have involvement from the businesses who need technicians,” Snyder adds.
So what’s the next step? You can support and build state marine service competitions in key boating states with product and personnel. Get in touch with your state’s SkillsUSA coordinator for details. At the Nationals level, heed Adey’s call and get yourself to Atlanta next June, with or without a booth. What if the infrastructure to find the next generation of entry-level boat technicians already exists and all we have to do is show up, support, and help grow it?
Margaret Podlich is the Executive Director for the ABYC Foundation. Contact her at email@example.com.