As the marine industry faces a shortage of qualified technicians, businesses across the industry will need to take it upon themselves to help address the issue. One notable example of a company taking action is Yamaha Marine Group.
Two years ago, the company initiated a pilot program called Yamaha Service Skills Training. The program calls on individuals with a general technical background who are interested in working in the marine industry to train at Yamaha on basic maintenance of the company’s 2.5 to 350 hp engines.
After its pilot program year, Yamaha determined that the company wanted graduates of the program to have a link to a dealership, and so the company invited dealers to send young people to the program. They could be recent high school graduates who worked as boat washers at the marina or recent graduates of a local technical school program.
“On our side, we have created an intensive entry-level skills class to teach Yamaha service and maintenance, so when students go back to the dealership, they can immediately start becoming part of the income stream,” said Ben Speciale, president of Yamaha Marine Group.
Chris Butler, owner of Butler Marine, sent two recent graduates of a local automotive technical vocational program to Yamaha’s Service Skills Training course with the intent to have them come back and start at his dealership. He felt the program was very helpful and a great value to the dealership.
“They came back raring to go. They had a good amount of knowledge on the marine side [after] in comparison to what they had [before],” he said. He added that he has already sent two more employees this year and plans to send at least one person per year in the future.
Yamaha Marine Group believes its responsibility is to build products that surpass customers’ expectations with reliability and dependability at their fundamental core; with that expectation comes long-term use, so providing service is critical.
“If you want the product to last a long time, it has to be maintained properly. So, to me, this is as fundamental as making sure the engine starts right out of the box – we also have to make sure our products get properly maintained by very qualified technicians,” Speciale said. “If we don’t do that, then we fail our core mission of providing a good, memorable experience with our products over a long period of time.”
While marine tech schools can provide a great general background, they often don’t get into the complexity of specific brand products. Having a manufacturer-based training opportunity like Yamaha’s Service Skills Training allows new techs to get familiar with the specific product they will be working on at the dealership.
“Most dealerships don’t have that process in place, nor should they. They should rely on companies like Yamaha to do that. They bring that student to us and we teach them about Yamahas,” said Speciale.
Dealerships should work on building relationships with their local vocational schools, both in and outside of the marine industry, to help create a feeder system for the industry. For Yamaha’s part, the company has worked on formalizing relationships with schools to help provide products – as many marine tech high school programs are working on outdated equipment – and curriculums and concepts to provide a basic understanding of the modern marine industry.
“But that doesn’t work in reality unless the dealer knows who these technical schools are, so we’re trying to make that connection,” said Speciale. “Dealers have to make that connection to those feeder systems into their dealerships, and if they’re not there [at technical schools] once, twice or three times a year – or inviting them that many times a year to see their business – then they are probably not recruiting properly. Dealers absolutely need to make that connection to offer students a chance to see what the career is like in the marine industry.”
Butler agreed. He said that while Yamaha’s service training helps provide a means for closing the work shortage gap, “you still have to go out and find qualified people, but this gives you a training avenue that you didn’t have before,” he said. “It’s not like guys can sit back and people are going to be banging on their door, because a lot of people – unless you’re in the marine industry – don’t know about the program, so you still have to go out and find the right [people].”
A focus on training also signals to technical school graduates that the marine industry is one where an employee can carve out a fulfilling, long-term career, according to Speciale, who started as a tech in the marine industry.
“As young people try to decide what to do with their lives, having a career path signals that this may be a good industry to get into,” he said. “From my perspective, if they can’t see some type of way to expand their formalized training within a career, then they may decide to look at another industry . . . and that would be a shame. The marine industry can provide a wonderful career.”