Facing the Challenges of an Aging Workforce & Creating Opportunities to Engage the Next Generation of Boatbuilders
This post was written by Holly Ashton, Industry Relations Coordinator at IYRS
I recently spoke at ABBRA’s 2015 Boatyard Business Conference about the marine industries graying workforce and what we are doing to fill the yards with fresh talent. In preparation for the panel discussion called Facing the Challenges of an Aging Workforce & Creating Opportunities to Engage the Next Generation of Boatbuilders, I read through some of the data gathered by a 2012 skills gap study of the marine industry in Rhode Island. We often hear about this graying workforce but it is quite powerful to put some figures to those words. According to this study, we have between 1060 and 1370 workers that are 55 years of age or older. This is a significant number and about 17% of our current workforce. When you look at the numbers a bit closer, you will find that our small businesses with 1-4 employees have, on average, 40% of their workforce in this ‘graying’ bracket of 55 years or older.
Interestingly, IYRS was founded by a woman who was restoring a J-class yacht and saw the need to train the next generation of boatbuilders. IYRS was founded in 1993 and from there we have grown leaps and bounds into a full blown technical school with three, soon to be four, accredited certificate programs. We are working hard to train the next generation of boatbuilders, restorers, marine and composite technicians but more importantly we are working to train the next generation of makers. We are educating people that like to work with their hands and are helping them find an industry that seeks their talent.
IYRS’ three programs are carefully designed and backed by industry. We also have an incredibly successful internship program and very high placement rate. These are all good things but let’s focus for a minute on the students that actually come to study at IYRS. Over the past few years, our admissions team has been focused on recruiting students while they are still in high school. This has proven to be quite effective. Our average age is slowly declining and is currently around 27 with several students joining us at just 18 years old. The admissions team spends time talking with high school shop teachers, guidance counselors and attending career fairs at technical and traditional schools all over New England. In addition to this in-person outreach, we are also targeting millenniums online through clever advertisements on social media and targeted websites. These ads talk about careers, the length of some of our programs (only 6 months!) and have interesting pictures of people arms deep in their work or of intriguing projects, like carbon fiber race cars. This strategy seems to be working as our programs are running at or close to near capacity. We are successfully recruiting this younger generation into the marine and composites industry.
As proud as I am of our admissions and marketing team, we cannot take full credit for this success. First, we have wonderful support from our local trade association, RIMTA. The folks at RIMTA work tirelessly to promote the marine industry. Often times we will be side by side at job fairs and high school events. RIMTA has worked for training dollars through organizations such as the Governors Workforce Board which allow them to fund a variety of programs such as the pre-apprenticeship training program and the summer work and learn program. Both of these programs are designed to get the local youth exposed to the industry and also start them on the path to learning skills valued by our local yards and builders. RIMTA is doing a great job getting people excited about working in the marine industry and other trade associations should take note.
The other people that have helped IYRS become so successful are our industry partners. Our industry partners help with our curriculum development by serving on our Program Advisory Committee. They also, mentor our student interns, hire our graduates, invite our students to their shops/yards for field trips, and participate in our annual career day. Thank you.
This was just some of the information that I shared during our panel discussion at the ABBRA event. I see IYRS and RIMTA as real success stories in workforce development and trade education and I would have to say that I think most of the event participants agreed.
After each of the panelists shared similar information about their organizations, we opened up the session to questions and discussion. A representative from a New England boatbuilder asked how exactly to deal with new hires that come out of training programs. The overwhelming response from the panel and participants was that these new hires need to be mentored. There was discussion about how these students need additional training, often times training specific to their new place of employment and also need mentoring to adjust to their new career and to advance within the organization. A woman in the back of the crowd spoke up and asked ‘well, how do we actually mentor the new hires?’ We all know people that happen to be promoted to managerial roles, and therefore mentoring roles, because they are good at their technical job but do not necessarily have a talent for teaching. Now I am not saying that this woman falls into that category, but she certainly brings up a good point. Surely we can connect those that need some support mentoring new hires with people that specialize in that area.
There were also some good questions about how curriculum for marine industry programs is developed. A gentleman from Florida was wondering how graduates from some programs, particularly in the Northeast were so qualified and people from other schools seemed to lack most of the desired skills. Someone in the audience bluntly stated that you need to pick which programs you work with. He continued by saying that we are lucky to have two of the best schools represented on the panel but that as an employer you need to be selective when you choose a program to work with. Marine tech programs are not all the same. At IYRS we certainly know this to be true. We pride ourselves on being able to teach people hands-on technical skills, CAD, and soft skills such as teamwork in a very condensed time period. We see this as our core competency and appreciate the recognition. We also work hard for this recognition. We have the Program Advisory Committee that meets every 6 months to review our curriculum and we constantly revise our programs to meet the demands of the industry.
Anyway, let’s get back to the graying workforce. We all know that this is an issue. If you look around most yards you can literally see the graying or perhaps balding workforce. When the audience asked what they could do about this situation our response was simple: get involved. Get involved with the youth in your area. Invite schools for field trips and participate in job shadowing experiences. Participate in local career days. As I mentioned to the audience, here comes a shameless plug: participate in our Career Day. The 10th Annual Marine & Composites Industry Career Day is coming up on Saturday, March 7th. This event is held at IYRS and is co-sponsored with RIMTA so that it is free to exhibitors and attendees. This is a great way to connect with the younger generation and people that are generally interested in starting or advancing a career in the industry. You can register by simply filling out the form on our website.
If we each do our part to show the next generation all of the possibilities that this industry offers, we are sure to attract some new blood. I would encourage everyone to show a young person the tools of your trade and help open their eyes to all that this great industry has to offer.
We become what we behold.
We shape our tools
And then our tools shape us.
Have a question or comment for Holly? Drop her at line at [email protected].
My colleague in Marketing & Admissions and myself met with some gentlemen the other day to talk about IYRS. These gentlemen, all in agreement, mentioned that we should do a better job of educating our community about the importance of IYRS’ accreditation.
And they’re right – there is a big difference between for-profit, not-for-profit, accredited and non-accredited institutions. Accredited educational institutions are held to different and often stricter guidelines and requirements to continue operations. Most often, this is in reference to the value of credits earned or the outcome of the student’s study or training, and whether or not an employee or faculty member will act in the best interest of the student versus the school.
IYRS is proudly accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), a not-for-profit accreditation organization whose mission, according to their website is,
“to serve as a reliable authority on educational quality and to promote enhanced opportunities for students by establishing, sustaining, and enforcing valid standards and practices which contribute to the development of a highly trained and competitive workforce through quality career oriented education.”
The ACCSC has a 144-page document called the “Standards of Accreditation” which serves as a guideline for acceptable and expected practices of a school, from recruitment of students to program requirements to admissions policies to job placement to student services. It’s pretty rigorous!
Every five-years, the ACCSC works with institutions accredited by them to ensure all Standards of Accreditation are being met by the institution.
What Does All This Mean to You?
To students and families of students, this means that you can rest assured an accredited school would always act in the best interest of the student. I can attest that the IYRS leadership team has assembled a very good staff of individuals who work on our program curriculums, help students with career preparation, internship & job placements, and will genuinely do everything in their power to help a student. Not to mention we have some of the nicest, coolest, smartest faculty members with tons of experience in their field. With all that in mind, here are three things you may not have known about IYRS:
1. IYRS Recently Introduced a New Member to the Senior Management Team
Just a few months ago, IYRS was fortunate to bring on Dr. Frank Sargent as Vice-President of Education. This was a great milestone for us as we continue to enhance our current programs and prepare to introduce some new ones in the near future.
Read More About Dr. Sargent’s New Role
2. IYRS Has a Program Advisory Council (PAC)
Periodically, IYRS gathers trusted individuals from outside our school and within the industry which our school serves in an effort to look through our curriculum and ensure that what our students learn is in line with the needs of industry. Here is an example, directly from the notes from the last PAC meeting:
“There is a shift in marine technology that the IYRS Program Advisory Committee (PAC) has encouraged IYRS to include in our curriculum to remain in-demand within the industry both immediate and long-term. This technology is called Digital Switching, which is the integration of computers through which all onboard electronics are controlled. IYRS will consider offering seminars to discuss this technology and the associated products
This integration of computers has brought joystick technology to powerboats where you can control the boat immensely, including 360% turning where you would have previously needed a bow-thruster, etc. We are actually bringing in the gentleman who created this technology to deliver this part of the curriculum.”
3. Some Credits Earned at IYRS Transfer in to Salve Regina (Newport, RI), Roger Williams University (Bristol, RI) and Community College of Rhode Island (Various Campuses, Rhode Island)
For individuals who seek to bring together skills built through experiential learning and a comprehensive college education, IYRS has developed agreements with area colleges where credits earned at IYRS may transfer in towards programs at area colleges.
This blog was written by Josh Singer, Marketing Manager at IYRS.