At the helm: Problem No. 1

Quick – what’s your biggest business challenge right now?

Not surprisingly, when I go to an industry event or boat show, I try to grab some time with top execs. At the Miami International Boat Show this year, almost every manufacturer I spoke to identified finding competent employees as problem No. 1.

And I mean competent, not good – just reliable employees who can show up every day and do the job at a passable level.

Whether it’s dealers or manufacturers, the challenge just seems to keep getting tougher and is reaching crisis levels. It’s especially problematic in what I would call skilled blue-collar jobs like service techs or manufacturing. That’s why we’ve dedicated a significant portion of this month’s magazine to the issue. 

We have plenty of challenges facing the industry from government regulations (more on that in this issue as well!) to affordability, but the need for a long-term solution to workforce development outweighs those. Anecdotally, we hear tell of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of open boat manufacturing jobs across the country. And if boat dealers are projecting their needs correctly, there will be 31,000 new dealership employees necessary by 2019.

That’s a lot of boats not being built, sold and serviced.

As the Baby Boomers retire, who is going to fill those roles? Generation X is smaller and many of us pursued different careers. In many cases, that came from an emphasis in the schools on sending everyone to college. My high school, for example, didn’t even offer any sort of technical education of any significance. The Millennials seem to heading down the same path.

In this issue, we detail the current state of the industry when it comes to employment, but that’s probably not news to most of you. More importantly, we talked to dealers,
manufacturers, trade associations and others about what is working out there in the field. From apprenticeship programs to government grants to creative hiring practices, there are a lot of companies out there taking some smart steps to attack the problem.

The reality is that we need to take these programs and build on them to spread across the boating industry. It’s a long-term approach, but necessary to make sure we keep growing. It took us a long time to get here, too.   

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