The NorEaster

Sam_Pfeifle_Sept13 Five things I learned at the WorkBoat show, 2012

December 11, 2012

It would have taken weeks to see and hear everything of value at the International WorkBoat Show this year. It was mammoth, bigger than ever and nearly impossible to wholly consume. But I'll take a swing at offering five things that got the gears turning this year:

1. This industry needs skilled workers, badly: I know people talk about this all the time, and maybe the topic is boring, but when a guy like keynoter John Dane, CEO of TY Offshore, says he'd hire 50 welders tomorrow if only he could find them, that's saying something. All election season we heard about job creation - well, they've been created, but apparently no one wants a $60,000-a-year job in the shipbuilding industry. Imagine that.

Further, I heard often that our education system is doing our kids a disservice by implying that a college education is the only suitable outcome for a kid entering the school system. Hogwash. Sure, they need training beyond high school, but the liberal arts aren't for everyone. Get those kids a mask and a torch.

2. Alternative power is coming: Sure, there was a fair amount of grumbling when Michael Mandelbaum told the Executive Summit audience that global warming was real and that fossil fuel use simply must be curtailed, but I didn't hear a whole lot of argument. From an electric outboard from Torqeedo to a new announcement by Rolls-Royce and Robert Allan that they're focusing on LNG-powered tug designs, the days of diesel may not be coming to an end, but the high times may have passed. What are you doing to make sure you're ready for the alternative fuels of the future?

3. So, they have these sandwiches in New Orleans that have french fries actually in them: When I ordered a "french-fried po' boy," I also asked for a side of fries. Haven't had a waiter laugh in my face in a while.

4. High technology is coming to the workboat world: From Flir's and Raytheon's thermal cameras to L-3 Communications' new detection abilities to Transas' 3D simulation programs to a host of other technological wizardry, I saw some cool stuff on the WorkBoat Show floor. Sure, most of it ain't cheap. And you'll have to train your captains and crew to use it correctly. But if you're not taking advantage of the latest in technological advances, you're going to be left behind at some point. Remember when you didn't need a smart phone?

5. The smart operators are paying attention to crew creature comfort: Remember that need for skilled workers? Well, how do you make sure your crew doesn't high-tail it to another operator? You make sure they've got all the comforts of home. From satellite TV and phones to high-speed Internet and exercise equipment on board, all of the forward-thinking operators are making sure their crews are healthy and happy as they depart on those two-week voyages out to the deepwater drilling operations or on a linehaul towboat.

Top-down managing just isn't going to work going forward. As skilled and savvy crews become more valuable, they're going to want to feel more a part of the operation, or they'll take their skills elsewhere and let you find someone else to handle that anchor. The Gulf, and the industry, are ramping up. You're going to need good - and happy - people if you want to take advantage of it.

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