Temporary relief

Two and a half years ago, Mark Payne ran an ad for a marine tech position at his company, Vincent Payne Marine Ltd., located in Point au Baril, Ontario, Canada. The ad promised employment at the top dealership in the province for the highest wages of any marine technician in the province and a great work environment. The dealership didn’t get a single response. Out of desperation, the company added, “$35 to $40 an hour based on experience.” Payne says the best technicians in his region typically make $30 an hour. However, it didn’t make a difference.

At the time, Canada’s marine industry was experiencing “a big shortage of qualified technicians.” However, that shortage may have eased for the moment. Payne says he ran a similar ad two to three months ago and received inquiries from a number of good people. While a couple of responses came from unqualified candidates displaced from other industries such as mining, forestry and heavy equipment, a number were “good qualified candidates from marinas that have gone bankrupt or are so slow they laid off a good chunk of their service department.”

Conversely, Payne Marine’s service department is busy, profitable and growing, or at least Payne expects to grow it with the right team in place. Whoever he hires will replace a current employee who he says is OK, but not super efficient. You have to double-check his work.

“I’m trying to capitalize on this before these people are gobbled up,” Payne explains. “I don’t think it’s going to last very long. The fact is that I know how tough it is to get good technicians. Even if I don’t have tons of work for them now, as I grow my business more, I’ll have employment for them, I’ll have fostered a relationship with them. When things are good again, most people will be working somewhere else.”

He believes the industry is largely to blame for the shortage over the past 10 years. Technicians have been abused with long hours for very little pay. As a result, “we’ve lost a lot of good people over the last 10 to 20 years, a lot of potential talent.”

Payne Marine has tried to buck that trend. Its hourly rate is $110, and Payne expects to increase that to $125 later this year. He says a technician should make about 30 percent of a dealership’s door rate.

“If you’re making $100 to $125 an hour off a technician, then you don’t mind paying them $30 an hour,” he says.

The good news, according to Payne, is that Ontario’s government and the Ontario Marine Operators Association have created a number of programs, instituted courses for marine technicians at two or three colleges and are marketing them heavily. The increased awareness this has generated has translated into more young people coming out of school who should be able to make a good living.

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