By Matt Edmundson
We all know of the skills gap, but is it different for us in the marine industry? What trade other than a marine technician must have such a versatile skill set to be successful? How do we find and train new techs? Compared to similar industries such as automotive or aerospace, the marine industry has historically not been as effective at training or even marketing the marine technician lifestyle as a potential career path. There is no quick fix for the challenge ahead, but there are many things we can do to help close the gap.
Re-think how we view education: So often we see education as a single event or series of events rather than a continual exercise and pursuit. We send technicians to a certification training for a week or two or hire a graduate from college or vocational school and often that is assumed to be sufficient. We all know busy schedules dictated by boatyard operations also limit the opportunities for techs to obtain more training without adding additional strain to the business in the short term. Product certifications, continuing education courses and full technical programs are a necessary and highly important step in building a trained and experienced workforce, but we must recognize that the learning doesn’t stop when a graduate passes an exam or a school door. The external learning received at these events are seeds for success, but if we don’t continually water, weed and prune the garden, we can’t expect them grow for long.
Recognize and communicate clear expectations and outcomes for all staff: It’s too easy to assume that others know what is expected of them, or to assume they understand their direction or their role in the business. This isn’t difficult to do, but it requires a goal. When educators develop curriculum, it always starts with the product in mind. What does a graduate need to know, and what do they need to be able to do? We then work backwards from those “learning outcomes” to develop programming that will meet those goals intentionally. It should be no different outside of school. Ask yourself what you expect a team member to be able to do, and what knowledge they need to have to perform their job? Lay out clear expectations and measurable objectives for each team member or group. Help them understand their potential path to reach those expectations and make sure they understand what their pathway to success is.
Embrace cross training: How many years of experience do you have among the members of your organization? I always enjoy visiting a dealer and hearing the service manager reference “over 100 years of experience among our technicians”, but how much of that knowledge remains stagnant in the minds and hands of soon to be retired staff? Passing on knowledge is like a bucket line to fight a fire. I can’t transfer any water to the person on my right if I haven’t already received it from the one to my left. Every single person you meet or work with knows something you don’t. Try to learn it, and then make sure you pass it on to someone else. The only effort this requires is to create the awareness and the culture of sharing information. This knowledge sharing will rarely happen effectively on its own without intent. Encourage it and make time for it.
Understand there are many facets to learning, and many skills that all effective teams need to be successful: Here at Great Lakes Boat Building School, we heavily stress the soft skills and communication necessary not only to be a good teammate but also to make sure that the graduates have a solid understanding on customer interaction. Customer education is also hugely important. Ensuring sales and technical staff have the capability and confidence to walk a customer through a new boat or a problem they are experiencing will be the difference between a poor or successful business outcome.
To summarize, reflect on what staff need to know and do. Determine measurable goals. Work to create an organizational culture in which information, knowledge, and experience flows freely but intentionally between team members. Identify individuals that have the aptitude and desire to advance their proficiency, and work to provide them the environment and tools they need to excel. If you don’t, someone else will.
A graduate of Great Lakes Boat Building School, Matt has experience in custom construction and restoration of boats, as well as systems design and installation. As Lead Instructor, Matt oversees all educational programming at GLBBS, as well as owning and operating Black Hole Boat Works.