How do we ensure that we have enough trained workers to build the increasingly sophisticated boats of today and tomorrow?
Closing the skills gap requires technical, hands-on educational programs that utilize the most current advances and processes available.
And it won’t happen as well or as quickly as it could without more input and commitment from us. That means getting involved in supporting, promoting and shaping the training programs offered at a variety of schools and organizations, according to Northern Marine’s Wes Fridell, who sits on the technical advisory committees of two colleges in the Pacific Northwest that offer marine training.
Whenever anyone complains about outsourcing, Fridell says, “We must look in the mirror and look within.” His advice? “Get involved and assist in taking action that serves to strengthen these technical schools,” says Fridell, who is the HR/safety manager at Northern Marine in Anacortes, Wash., which builds custom expedition yachts 65 feet and larger and commercial fishing vessels. “They serve to strengthen our industry.”
I asked about the challenges of teaching today’s students to think with their heads and their hands. What seems to be most lacking, he told me in an email, are the so-called soft skills. “The old-fashioned work ethic,” he says. “Dressing for the job, having the proper tools to perform tasks; showing up for work on time; exhibiting pride in one’s workmanship; [being] safety-conscious.”
Regardless of age, job or boat size, all workers need to remain adaptable, he emphasizes. “Everything is changing almost overnight in the world, in our country, in our own backyards and in our place of work,” says Fridell, who provides curriculum advice for the marine programs at the Skagit Valley College campus in Anacortes (where he chairs the advisory committee) and Seattle Central Community College. “Our industry is not immune.”
Interestingly, Fridell continues, classrooms today are filled with students of all ages and skill sets, from post-secondary students to retirees, the young and old, men and women, techno-nerds and the mechanically gifted.
“It’s not just young students fresh out of high school wondering ‘What am I going to do next? What shall I do when I grow up?’ ” Fridell says. “They all need to be challenged. And they all need clear direction, with the best up-to-date technology we can provide, for the best return on everyone’s investment.”
Both training programs that Fridell advises encourage a working partnership between the industry and the educational system to directly address what the industry needs today.
Without that industry input the schools can’t know what the immediate needs of our industry are, he says. But working together, he notes, “they can adapt their curriculum very quickly to stay on course.”
Fridell has observed, as many of us have, that many vocational education and industrial arts programs have disappeared at the high-school level. “Computer and IT positions are the wave that has washed over college prep [guidance],” he says. “High school advisers go forward with convincing students that … the most exciting, best-paying jobs are all IT-related.
“We correct the imbalance,” he continues, “by starting out at an even younger target audience [and] convincing those who set curriculum and advise students that there still is a viable [alternative] in the world of employment.”
Fridell calls the two programs he’s involved with in the Northwest “pathways into our industry.” And it’s this type of training that picks up where the skills-gap abyss — post-high school — leaves off, he adds.
That being said, Fridell also believes our industry “needs to project more of its lifestyle approach and inject some sexiness into all of the different employment opportunities we have.”