The Workforce Crisis: Marine trades association education opens youth to industry

One challenge the industry faces is a lack of awareness of the open jobs in marine trades and the lifelong careers they build. Marine trades associations can introduce young people to the boating industry through a variety of educational programs. 

The Rhode Island Marine Trades Association offers a summer marketing internship and a youth summer boatbuilding program to reach these young people. The internship offers college students interested in a marine industry marketing career experience in marketing, public relations and event planning and combines classroom sessions with on-the-job experience with local marine companies. 

The six-week boatbuilding program is for students age 14 to 16 to learn about the local marine industry and its careers while having fun completing a hands-on boatbuilding project. The program includes training in basic hands-on skills combined with career exploration, leadership development and adult mentoring.

“A lot of times, we are their first exposure to whatever the recreational boating industry has,” said Wendy Mackie, CEO of Rhode Island Marine Trades Association & Composites Alliance.

The boatbuilding program is a natural first introduction that RIMTA hopes encourages those teenagers to consider its pre-apprenticeship program

The Rhode Island Marine Trades Association hosts youth education to expose local students to the industry.

“The idea is we want to expose people, when they’re young enough, to the industry and all of the different types of careers that are available to them [so] they can then decide they want to … take additional programming,” said Mackie. 

These programs are held at local high schools and are promoted through the school department. Mackie said much like when RIMTA is looking to engage employers by attending boat shows, the association leverages existing locations and opportunities to engage those young people.

“If you’re going to a place that they already are familiar with, like their high school, and you’re just connecting with them there, you’re giving them a stipend or an incentive that will help keep them coming as well as engaging in fun activities and they’re learning and they don’t even realize it,” she said. “That improves your outcomes as well.”

RIMTA is also working with the Rhode Island Department of Education to articulate its pre-apprenticeship training program into existing high school programs, so that young people in the area can graduate high school with credentials in the marine industry, while also exposing them to the industry, its career pathways and skill sets, and cultivating them from a younger age.

While marine trades associations are able to provide significant exposure and educational opportunities to young people, the involvement of employers and industry stakeholders is what helps propel these programs to success.

“Without the communication piece and willingness to do their part of training – training their incumbent workforce, but also doing things like helping with training the pre-apprenticeship students, posting job shadows or field trips coming into high schools are doing speaking presentations – I think for them to step up and do their part is important,” said Jen Huber, vice president of operations at RIMTA.

Mackie suggests hosting tours at your business for local students, particularly those already attending the training programs at associations, to help make the industry tangible and accessible. This also helps associations expose kids to the industry in a way that is cost effective.

“They need to see it, smell it, feel it,” she said. “And I think that it’s one thing to say that, but to be able to actually see the people doing the jobs and running the travel lift, I mean the jaws just drop when you bring a group of 20 kids to Newport Shipyard and there’s a … travel lift there with a superyacht on it and it’s moving from one end of the shipyard to the other, and it might be Oprah Winfrey’s boat.

“We are big on that, but again that takes resources. It takes materials. It takes tool,” Mackie added. “And there’s no need for all of those tools to be purchased over and over again when you can just use them for a day at a boatyard. And so if a boatyard hosts that, it’s huge and money-saving, but it’s also extremely effective.”

(You can read more about companies who have successfully hosted high school students on page 26.)

As we continue to reach out to and communicate with students, the message is key; while the industry seems in a constant battle with the push for students to take a university track, it is a mistake to set up a marine industry career as an “alternative” to college.

“We stopped right away using that old line of ‘Not everybody should go to college,’ because that’s not what this is about,” said Susan Zellers, executive director of the Marine Trades Association of Maryland. “This is about rebranding the trades to be great careers for people. They are the careers that feed a family forever and build amazing confidence. When a young person knows how something works and how it gets put back together, it’s amazing at how confident they become, and that carries them to whatever they decide they want to be.”

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