Skilled trades education could make a comeback


By David Gee

Ask anyone in the boating industry about some of the biggest issues facing the industry – and we asked, through surveys, our Nautical industry ELEVATE Summit Industry Roundtable and at our Nautical industry Board of Directors meetings – and workforce development is always at the top of the list. It’s an industry-wide, national-wide problem.

Maybe that has the potential to change in the future. At least we have some encouraging education news to report, and that’s a start.

Based on enrollment trends, survey data and other signs, skilled trades training seems to be coming back into vogue.

A recent survey of high school students found that the likelihood of attending a four-year school had fallen by more than 20% over the past year and a half – to 48%, from 71%, according to ECMC Group, a non-profit organization aimed at helping students.

High school students are putting more emphasis on vocational training and post-graduate employment, according to the report, after surveying more than 1,000 high school students four times since January 2020.

Nearly half, or 46%, now say their ideal post-secondary plans would require three years of college or less.


Even before the pandemic, students were starting to consider more affordable and direct career alternatives to a four-year degree, said Jeremy Wheaton, chairman and chief executive of ECMC Group.

“The good news here is that there has been an increase in career awareness and technical training as a route to a good career,” he said.

It seems anecdotal that business careers have begun to receive higher levels of respect. Certainly, more and more people are becoming aware of widespread labor shortages, in all types of industries. And young people considering their career paths seem to be noticing alternatives, with a third now seeing trade school as a better option than college.

More evidence of a shift in sentiment

In another survey conducted by major equipment rental company BigRentz, 35% of respondents agreed that less debt was a key benefit of trade school, while 30% believe that trade school offers better chances of finding a job.

Student debt is a big deal, a $1.7 trillion deal to be exact, and the amount of current and former student debt has doubled in the past 10 years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

NCES reports that the average cost of attending a student living on campus at a four-year public institution in the state is $25,864 per year, or $103,456 over four years. However, only 39% of students graduate in four years. And obviously those numbers may be even higher for many colleges or universities, as many of you may doubt.

On the other hand, a trade school certificate costs an average of $33,000 and programs last from six weeks to a year. As a result, the opportunity to save money and start earning sooner is great for those who opt for a trade school education.

There’s always a disconnect when it comes to seeing trades as a pathway to well-paying jobs. In the latest BigRentz survey, only 16% of respondents thought higher paying jobs were a benefit of attending trade school.

There are certainly more opportunities than ever before for someone to train for a career in the boating industry.

The American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) reports that the list of schools and organizations that offer marine technician training continues to grow each year.

During the roundtable on the state of the maritime industry in Nautical industry At the ELEVATE Summit in November, Yamaha Marine Group President Ben Speciale noted that Yamaha had invested heavily in technical training and workforce development.

In recent years, 3,238 Introductory Outboard Systems certificates have been earned and several thousand students have enrolled in 107 technical study programs in 32 states, all supported by Yamaha.

The Great Lakes Boat Building School, established in 2006, offers two intensive 12-month programs that prepare students to become industry-ready craftsmen and technicians. They are currently in the midst of an exciting $3.8 million fundraising and expansion project, which will mean a new 10,000 square foot building for education and hands-on training in mechanics and marine electronics.

The Marine Retailers Association of the Americas recently hired Wendy Mackie as Director of Workforce and Foundation Development, where she will take on the lead role in operating the MRAA Educational Foundation, a 501 charitable organization. (c)(3) founded to provide financial support for education, training and professional development in the recreational boating industry.

“The key,” Mackie said in her hiring announcement, “is tapping into dedicated workforce development funding streams in each area to ensure the training programs developed are sustainable. The money is there; we just have to show that there is a demand for workers and that employers in our industry will hire them.

Experts all agree that the first step in solving a problem is to identify it. I think it’s covered. I did not check the first issue of Nautical industry published in 1929 (later named Nautical company), but it may contain an article on workforce development. It seems people in the industry have been talking about it for almost as long.

Talking doesn’t solve the problem, but there’s obviously a lot of action to go along with the discussion. And whenever you can use words like encouragement, good news, positive signs in the same sentence as workforce development, we’ll take it.

The future of work and the workforce is facing dramatic changes driven by technology, globalization, demographics, social values, a pandemic, and changing personal expectations of employees. Hopefully the men and women who want to work in the boating industry have a bright future ahead of them.


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