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CMTA Surmounts Outreach, Educational, and Scholarship Programs to Combat Workforce Crisis

Tuesday, September 25, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Mickaela Giese
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Essex, CT. - There are job opportunities within the recreational boating segment that are going unfilled, and hundreds of them are here in Connecticut. Statistics from the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas estimate that by 2019, there will be over 30,000 budgeted positions available nationwide but left open within the sector due to a lack of applicants, appropriate training and educational programs.

"Marine trades are often overlooked as a career, but they do offer full-time, year-round job opportunities, a variety of occupations, certification, degrees, and clear lifetime career paths, especially for those in technical or mechanical positions," according to Kathleen Burns, Executive Director of the Connecticut Marine Trades Association (CMTA).

To further foster educational and workforce development opportunities in the recreational boating industry in Connecticut, help fill existing positions and prepare the next generation of potential employees, the CMTA is surmounting new initiatives and expanding upon some of its long-running programs. The CMTA and many other boating related state and trade organizations have also supported the development of an instructional piece dedicated to growing the workforce, targeting national, regional and employer-level implementation: Strategy 10+1: A Marine Industry Guide to Growing the Workforce.

The newly formed CMTA Foundation, a 501(C)(3) organization, expands the CMTA's seven year old scholarship program, now to include grants, and program and curriculum development. It is the sole mission of the Foundation to fill both the skills gap and marine workforce shortage through scholarship, program development and training. The CMTA Annual Golf Tournament held in August at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield, Connecticut was the first event to benefit the new foundation, and a $1,500 scholarship from the MRAA was announced which will be awarded in the area of technical training. A joint press conference was held with the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) opening day of the Progressive Norwalk Boat Show, which NMMA produces, to announce the CMTA Foundation's formation, its initiatives, and NMMA's commitment to encourage manufacturers and dealers to participate in its efforts.  

Randy Jennings of Beacon Point Marine is serving as the CMTA Foundation's Chairman, Shannon McKenzie of the Mystic Seaport Museum is Vice Chairman, Dave Croker of Crocker's Boatyard is Secretary/Treasurer, and other members include Scott Bowden of Port Niantic Marina, Ron Helbig of Noank Village Boatyard and Lynn Oliver of Brewer/Safe Harbor Marinas. CMTA member input is being sought, and the board is undertaking a needs assessment to further develop the concept of the foundation.

Jennings, a product of Shelton High School and the Bridgeport Aquaculture School is an example of the type of career paths available in boating. His parents owned a boat, and at the age of 12 he started working on the gas dock at a small family run marina in Shelton. He moved on to Beacon's Shelton yard while in high school, simultaneously finishing high school and the Aquaculture program. He continued to work at Beacon, graduated from New England Institute of Technology with a marine technology degree and has quickly risen through the company from mechanic to now serving as Service Manager.  

"There are many misperceptions about working in our industry and it's important for us to get the word out that there are plenty of jobs available, and lots of opportunities in various capacities. Working in recreational boating is not just a part time job, but it can be a career for a lifetime," Jennings said. "The businesses that we work for are not large corporations, and for the most part are family run organizations. It is an industry in which employees are cultivated and treated like family," he added.

According to Burns, the workforce pressures affect approximately 537 small businesses across the state which facilitate the purchasing, storing, servicing and caring for boats. "The workforce shortages will potentially stagnate a growing industry from an economic stand point. The realities of our members' day-to-day struggles are that they are small businesses, averaging between $1 million to $2 million per year in sales, with an average of 15 workers. Without sufficient staffing and technical expertise, they cannot service their customers and run their businesses to the best of their ability."

The CMTA and NMMA hosted the their third annual Career Day at the Norwalk show, September 21, as an informational "Boating Careers More than a Job" session for students. Burns was joined by Lynn Oliver and manufacturer representatives to discuss the various opportunities in boating and job openings in the state. There are currently significant shortages in filling positions of licensed captains, as well as certified marine technicians and mechanics, with a list of openings available at http://ctmarinetrades.org/education/.

The Strategy 10+1 guide outlines the challenges facing the boating segment; that as an industry, recreational boating provides a fun, lifestyle based career pathway that can be very attractive to the rising employment pool, but that cultivating a talent pipeline requires that current marine industry, employers commit to an active role in training for the potential workforce, for new hires and for their existing workforce.   

According to McKenzie, who serves as Director of Watercraft Programs at the Mystic Seaport Museum, collaborating with school districts and technical schools across the state is going to be a key initiative for the CMTA Foundation. "We need to create career awareness, provide support of training programs through hands on assistance and publicity, as well as support STEM programs that compliment boat building, construction or mechanical training programs," she said.  

CMTA Foundation outreach and engagement has already been made with The Sound School (New Haven), the J. M. Wright Technical High School (Stamford), Norwalk Community College, Bridgeport Aquaculture School, Ella T. Grasso Southeastern Technical High School (Groton), and Waterford High School. In the past, the CMTA's Hartford Boat Show has also hosted student boat building programs from the Thompson Public School District and A Piece of the Pie (Hartford), as well as conducted career fairs at the show.

Both Burns and Jennings noted that since the July 1 sales tax reduction on boats, motors and trailers, Connecticut is seeing boaters return to its waters, an influx of new boaters, and dealers and marinas are reporting brisk sales. But the activity of the season has created a void in the workplace that the CMTA is trying to fill. "While many of our members already had budgeted open positions, the brisk business has exasperated the demand, and we want to help foster as many individuals as we can that are interested in pursuing opportunities in recreational boating to help them find a career path, hone their skills and to be able to fill these positions," Burn said.

In addition to the CMTA Foundation initiatives, The CMTA is working with many of the participants of the Strategy 10+1 guide and other associations to build national and regional networksthat include marine employers, schools, related industries and suppliers that can spread the word as to the current openings and future possibilities of career development in the recreational boating sector. At its 50th Annual Hartford Boat show in January 2019, the CMTA is also planning to highlight boating workforce opportunities, school and training programs through its second annual Windows to the Future section within its exhibit hall.  

As a 501(C)(3) organization, The CMTA Foundation is accepting donations and endowments. For more information, contact Kathleen Burns at kathleen@ctmarinetrades.org.

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