Skills shortage poses real threat to future prosperity

It’s been billed as a “workforce crisis” by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) - the shortage of skilled labour that has become one of the major inhibitors to marine industry growth around the globe.

IBI and Amsterdam Rai, organisers of METSTRADE, are doing their bit to raise the profile of the pressing issue by urging the most successful training and apprenticeship providers to enter the annual Boat Builder Awards 2018 in association with Raymarine, that takes place on November 13 at the National Maritime Museum in Amsterdam. Co-organisers of the Awards, IBI and the Rai introduced the Best Apprenticeship or Training Scheme category, sponsored this year by Marine Resources, back in 2016 to help promote an issue that if left unchecked could threaten the long-term prosperity of our industry.


Clock ticking

The NMMA recently issued a White Paper entitled ‘Strategy 10+1 A Marine Industry Guide to Growing the Workforce’ highlighting its concerns whilst offering advice to members on how best to overcome recruitment issues. “Without sufficient staffing and technical expertise, increased boat sales simply translate to service wait times that will drive boaters to a different choice of recreation,” read the Guide. “Increased boat sales mean more challenges filling dealer orders when manufacturing employees are not readily available to help meet demand. This isn’t just a workforce problem. It’s a customer service problem.”

The Guide sets out ways employers can attract and retain a solid workforce with an Employer Toolkit helping firms determine what their employment needs are and how to begin workforce development.

“Attracting and retaining qualified workers has become one of the most important challenges for marine manufacturers and dealers alike,” NMMA president Thom Dammrich told IBI. “With unemployment in the US at historical lows, we must all get more creative in working with educational institutions, economic development organizations to insure potential workers have the skills needed by the industry. Apprenticeship programs and public relations efforts that promote the positives of working the marine industry provide additional potential for solving workforce issues which are hurting the industry and our ability to provide product and service current boaters to keep them on the water.”


Reaching out

Industry association around the globe are waking up to the problem: “15% of jobs in our industry cannot currently be filled,” claims, Jürgen Tracht, managing director of the German Marine Federation Bundesverband Wassersportwirtschaft, according to a recent survey by the association. “Since we can only cover a small part of the workforce through our own training, we are dependent on acquiring skilled workers, from electronics/electrical engineers, warehousemen and painters to mechatronics engineers, carpenters etc, from other sectors. In doing so, we come across the problem that our industry as an employer is hardly known to the population to a large extent.” To try and rectify that the German Federation is embarking on a PR campaign over the next 3 years, to communicate the attractiveness of the marine industry to potential employees. “We are investing around €250,000 in the campaign that will be launched at boot Düsseldorf 2019,” said Tracht.

British Marine is also taking steps to ensure the talent tap is not turned off, and view apprenticeships as a critical component. “British Marine and its members have been involved in developing new Apprenticeship Standards over the past 3 years in Boat Building, Marine Engineering, Marina & Boatyard Operative and more recently have started the initial scoping for the development of a new Marine Electrician Apprenticeship Standard,” Head of Training at British Marine, Blue Davies, explained to IBI.

“We do still have a skills shortage within the industry and the apprenticeship reforms have enabled employers to use apprenticeships and the new apprenticeship funding streams, including the apprenticeship levy and co-investment funding, to recruit new talent to their companies and upskill staff in new roles, to enable progression through the industry.”

New Zealand, and the NZMarine industry Association have been in the front line in the battle to recruit skilled personnel for some time. For the last 20 years the country’s marine industry has had the benefit of its own boatbuilding and related marine trades apprenticeship trade training program.

This program designed and administered by the NZMarine and Composites Industry Training Organisation has provided over 2,000 graduates of its various programs and currently has 460 apprentices spread throughout 210 companies nationwide in NZ.


On the frontline

The training program is so highly respected that marine industry companies from other counties have purchased a licence to deliver the NZ apprentice programs outside of NZ. In every case the senior management from the NZMarine and Composites Industry Training Organisation assist the foreign companies to deliver the system.

NZ Marine’s executive director Peter Busfield told IBI: “A vibrant and profitable marine industry requires sales and the capability to build or supply the boat, product or service sold.

I would rate both as equal requirements for a marine company or marine industry in any given country to be successful.

The lack of affordable capability is currently restricting many companies and marine industries worldwide.”

Though there’s no quick fix, the industry finally is rallying around to alleviate the skills shortage problem. In the last few weeks IBI reported on a flagship South African boatbuilding and composites training programme enrolling its first group of students in Cape Town; Pendennis celebrating the enrolment of 222 apprentices since the foundation of its award-winning scheme 20 years ago, and the upcoming graduation of 77 apprentices at Southampton Boat Show, a handful of a growing number of indicators that the industry is mobilising. It’s a battle the industry has to win. As the NMMA’s White Paper concludes: “If we can’t build the boats that we can sell and we can’t service the boats that we have already sold, boating will suffer.”


Nominate now

The Best Apprenticeship or Training Scheme award, sponsored by Marine Resources is designed not only to bring into the focus the skills shortage issue, but as importantly, to celebrate those boatbuilders and training bodies doing their utmost to ensure the industry has the tools to thrive for future generations.


To nominate for the award (it’s quick and free) visit Deadline for entries is September 21.