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Industry struggles to find qualified workers

Industry struggles to find qualified workers.
Jan 29, 2018

A new website established by a statewide advocacy group aims to attract more people to the marine trades industry — a field that, like many, is seeing a shortage of workers coming into the fold.

The Massachusetts Marine Trades Educational Trust and the Massachusetts Marine Trades Association have launched, a website that touts the marine trades field and the job opportunities it offers. The site features job listings, information on education and a one-minute video promoting the field and the employment opportunities.

“We focus a great deal on workforce development and the shortage being seen locally and nationally,” said Randall Lyons, executive director of the trades association. “The No. 1 concern of our members is being able to find qualified help.”

Lyons said an April 2016 workforce survey of its membership bears this out: 80 percent of the members surveyed said the ability to expand their business was inhibited by not being able to hire qualified employees. Nearly 90 percent said it was difficult to find replacement workers with the same skills as those who are retiring, according to the survey.

The 64 respondents to the survey indicated a need for 396 employees in key jobs in the next five years; the survey extrapolates a need for as many as 3,000 jobs statewide in the marine trades fields in the same time frame.

The 934 marine businesses in Massachusetts now employ about 11,000 workers, according to the marine trades association.

“It’s a fun industry to be in,” Lyons said. “Boaters are very passionate, and workers are very passionate about what they do. It’s a great field.”

Todd Walker, whose family owns Orleans-based Nauset Marine, said the company has the same challenges as the rest of the industry in finding qualified employees. Most companies offer on-the-job training, he said, and are looking for workers in many fields, not just those with mechanical inclinations.

“It’s certainly important that people understand they can make a good living working in the marine industry,” he said. “There are many jobs and career opportunities at most maritime industry businesses.”

A reliable pipeline for Nauset Marine and other area marine businesses has been the marine technology programs at Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School in Bourne and Cape Cod Regional Technical High School in Harwich. At the latter school, instructor Kevin Rand said the marine services program takes 12 freshmen a year and always has a waiting list of students hoping to find a spot.

“We have a pretty high interest,” he said.

The older students often take part in co-op programs that place them in area workplaces, including Nauset Marine. Many of those students get hired right out of school, he said.

“They can really write their own ticket,” Rand said.

Rand, a Cape Tech graduate, said he recalls that the last Marine Trades Association workforce survey about 10 years ago showed a similar program in finding qualified employees. The situation has remained a challenge ever since, he said.

“Boatyards can’t meet the needs of their customers,” he said. “We try to expose the kids to all kinds of opportunities that exist.”