As a graduate of the public school system, I think I've done all right. But if I have one complaint, it's that my teachers and guidance counselors didn't spent any time helping me understand what school is supposed to prepare you for: work. Sure, they taught me the basics: reading, writing and arithmetic. But they didn't help me imagine all the ways I might apply them. They didn't challenge me to think about how I could transform the things I was best at and most passionate about into a career. And they certainly didn't expose me to what such a career might look and feel like. No mentoring programs. No internship programs. No career-oriented field trips. Unfortunately, the same was largely true of the pricey private college I attended. I stumbled upon a career in the boating industry completed by chance.
But a community college in southeastern Massachusetts, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Marine Trades Association, is working to change that for today's students and job seekers. Through a three-year workforce development grant awarded in the summer of 2007, Massasoit Community College, in partnership with Bristol Community College, has created programs to introduce those investigating a career in the marine field to opportunities available in the industry, to train those interested in becoming a marine technician and to give such students real-life experience in the form of internships that they can use to help them find jobs once they graduate.
Thus far, the internship program has exceeded organizers' expectations. Their goal was to place nine people in internships by the time the grant expired in May 2010. Already, the program has placed 13 interns in learn and earn positions at marinas and marine service shops in the area. Many were retained for the season and two have gone on to be hired for full-time positions.
In addition, the college held a half-day conference this March to discuss how the marine industry can work with high school guidance counselors and instructors to make the transition to a career in the boating business smoother. And it offers a "train the trainer" workshop for members of the boating industry with an interest in teaching to help extend the impact of the program's reach into high schools and other educational environments.
While it's clear this program is having an impact, its scope is limited by geography and the grant's timetable. Where its greatest power lies is in its ability to serve as an example across the country.
"We are hoping we will have systematically affected the ability and approach that the industry has in training, in recruiting and in developing its workforce so that the connection between Massasoit Community College and the marine trades association is a model that can be effectively duplicated in other areas," says Audrey Boucher, project coordinator for the Marine Trades Grant, Massasoit Community College.
Those who struggle to find qualified employees - whether technicians, salespeople or the next generation of leadership - have an opportunity to change their company's future and that of their peers by working with their high schools, community colleges and vocational education programs to adapt this model to suit their region's needs.
Let's face it: our workforce is graying. Not only do we often struggle to find qualified employees, we also find it increasingly difficult to identify leaders to succeed our small business owners. One of this program's strengths has been its ability to reach non-traditional job candidates, such as women, veterans and those considering a second career. Instead of hoping they stumble into the industry, let's build a path to lead them there. The longer we remain content to fail at uncovering sources of new blood to enliven our businesses and our industry, the more dire the future appears.
To learn more about the marine industry job force development work of Massasoit Community College, click here or visit www.massasoit.mass.edu/workforce_development/jib/index.cfm.