If you’ve taken your boat in for repairs or service, you might notice a fact that is causing tremendous concern in the marine industry. Marine service people are becoming harder to find! Every year, more Baby Boomers (the population segment born between 1946-1964) retire. And every year, more of the Generation Y segment enters the workforce (that group comprises those born from 1980-2000, including Millenials). While many social scientists and grumpy old people will opine about the differences between these two generations, I want to focus this column on how these changing demographics are tied to yachting and what we are seeing on the ground in the Northwest.
First, here are the facts. There are an estimated 30 million jobs in the U.S. that pay at least $55,000 per year that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, and these jobs are opening fast. By just next year, 31,000 jobs in the marine industry will be available; that breaks down to 21 percent in retail and 59 percent in boating service. In the boating service category, almost all—88 percent—are for marine technicians. Overall, marine manufacturing supports 650,000 jobs and 34,833 businesses in the United States.
The “college for all” mantra that many lawmakers subscribe to has meant that our education system has graduated way too many kids with Gaelic poetry degrees and student debt, but not enough coveted marine trades men and women. Bringing this issue closer to home, Rep. Gael Tarleton passed legislation last year that ties career and technical education (CTE) to Washington state’s basic education. If you peruse the state’s constitution, and you know you do, then you will remember that the paramount duty of the state is to fund education.
So, when it comes to the legislative formula for success, we’ve got a bipartisan group of elected officials (aka legislative champions). What else is needed to turn the tide? I took this question to Tory Gering who eats and sleeps this issue. She is part of the team at the Manufacturing Industrial Council (MIC) that is spearheading Core Plus, the stalwart two-year CTE program that’s spreading around Washington. Tory replied, “Peter, you need a mix of an industry sponsor; industry support and management (MIC); state support (superintendent) and teachers willing to use curriculum and participate in training three times a year. “
Each component is dependent on the others in this system. As good as the MIC is to work with (our state is fortunate to have them), they cannot do it alone. The PTA is needed, and other education partners (like Ann Avary of the Center of Excellence for Marine Manufacturing & Technology and Sarah Sherer of the Seattle Maritime Academy) are essential.
Plus, there’s a role for federal partners. Now, we are talking about what’s happening 3,000 miles away in the “other” Washington. Thanks to an invite from the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), I briefed Congressional staffers on September 6 about all the good work going on here and then segued into what’s needed at the federal level to bolster our workforce. Having lived with this issue with the 725 members of the Northwest Marine Trade Association, my employer, I was interested to make the case and then get Congress on board (or more on board). The list of asks were very specific:
- Continuing the Small Shipyard Grant Program. (Backstory: This grant program has typically only been available to large shipyards. It’s only within the last five years that boatyards are eligible to apply.)
- Funding to support registered apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship for adults and youth.
- Funding to support the Domestic Maritime Centers of Excellence initiative, which Washington is a finalist to land after an exhaustive national competition.
- Funding to support expanded marine industry programming at the K-12 level.
Like any aspiring salesperson, I was able to maximize my time in D.C. after this lunch briefing. In particular, I took my NMMA counterparts with me to visit with Washington state’s Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Derek Kilmer’s senior staffers. The topics were the same in both meetings: the Whale Task Force (see the previous On Watch column) and a new threat to recreational boating, i.e. the National Marine Fisheries Service looking at a raft of new regulations and mitigation needed before existing marinas can be updated. Stay tuned on this issue.
Getting back to the subject at hand, it’s easy to get lost in the big numbers. This issue of education hit home for me when I put together this year’s Career Fair at the Seattle Boat Show. Thirty-five companies signed up to exhibit. In total, they had over 500 openings to fill during this two-hour event. As the fair went along, the energy was tremendous, handshakes and applications sprinkled the concourse level of the Boat Show. Sadly, though, only 149 people attended. To play a role in having people find rewarding employment gives me goosebumps, but my level of satisfaction is tempered by the demand out there. So much work needs to be done on this subject!