Shipyards struggling with skilled labor shortages are taking steps to develop the next generation of marine industry workers.
Exhausted employers throughout the country are reporting a lack of employees, and the situation in shipyards is no exception.
Roscioli Yachting Center in Fort Lauderdale is just one American yacht repair facility with carpenters, electricians, welders, fabricators, painters, and mechanics on the job — but they need more. Meanwhile, an increasing shortage of skilled labor in the future is anticipated.
“We have significant workforce challenges,” said James Brewer, managing director at Roscioli. “With the aging workforce, there are not enough new people coming into the fields.”
Thunderbolt Marine Inc. in Savannah, Georgia, faces the same battle.
“Well-qualified people are hard to find, and we struggle like everyone else,” said the company’s president, Ernest D’Alto. “Experienced marine tradespeople are aging out, and although we have discussed the problem forever, little has been done to develop training programs for the next generation.”
Michael Kelly, president and chief operating officer of Bradford Marine, said, “Our human resources department is continually looking for new talent in order to develop the next generation of maritime professionals.”
The concern is not new but is getting worse, according to Brewer.
“We’ve been fighting this battle for 20 years or so, and it’s not much improved,” he said. “Every marine business has a ‘help wanted’ sign out.”
There are signs of hope. Although qualified employees are in short supply now, advances are being made and there are signs of hope.
“I do find myself encouraged after touring five of our local high schools,” D’Alto said.
Savannah’s surrounding Chatham County, “is doing a great job of getting trades back into the high schools, offering courses in auto body, auto mechanics, welding, and many more,” he said.
Thunderbolt Marine hires graduates from Savannah Technical College and provides apprenticeship opportunities for welders, HVAC, canvas, and upholstery workers. The shipyard is looking into working with the college to develop marine programs and is assessing the need for tradespeople through a survey with Georgia Area Marine Business Association (GAMBA).
Similarly, South Florida students have several trade training opportunities. Marine Industries Association of South Florida (MIASF) established Florida’s first registered yacht service technician apprenticeship program. The two-year program gives apprentices a basic set of shipyard skills for marine industry careers.
But even with an expanding pool of future trained workers, the demand will remain high.
“There are good training programs with good kids coming out of them, but they are being sought after by a number of different industries — construction, automotive, airlines are recruiting them also,” Roscioli’s Brewer said. “It is a challenging labor market.”