In Washington state, with its deep culture of boatbuilding and maritime craftsmanship around Seattle and Puget Sound, it should be easy to recruit young people to the trades, right?
Wrong. People who work with Washington’s vigorous public-private partnerships to promote the maritime trades said they are struggling, just like other regions. Several who were the featured speakers at how-to-do-it workshops at last week’s WorkBoat Maintenance & Repair Expo and Conference in New Orleans, said workforce numbers in the Pacific Northwest are not looking good.
The average age of maritime-related workers is now 57, “but you can get into this at a good starting wage” and make around $70,000 in early career years, said Joshua Berger, coordinator for the Washington Maritime Federation, a project associated with the Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County.
Vigor Industrial and South Seattle College have a well-established partnership for training entry-level workers. Ken Johnson, Vigor’s lead welding instructor, and Veronica Wade, dean of the college’s welding program, had a standing-room audience for their session on how the project is retraining unemployed workers and placing more than 80% in good jobs.
But there’s real concern that even aggressive recruitment and training programs in the Northwest, Texas and other industry centers won’t meet the demand.
“Who’s going to work on LNG (liquid natural gas vessels)? Who’s going to work with these new coatings?” Berger said. “The industry is moving really fast now.”
“It’s that way all over,” said Sandy Brown, educational accounts manager for the non-profit American Boat and Yacht Council, which hosts training sessions around the U.S. to certify workers in ABYC standards.
But typical classes only get 25 to 30 students. “For an industry that needs to grow, that’s not enough,” Brown said. So the council is working more with community colleges, state marine trade associations and other partners to get the word out, she said.
The biggest need these days is for electrical training, to keep up with rapidly evolving systems like digital controls and LED lighting. ABYC offers a basic four-day course in electrical and corrosion training for novices, “and by the end of those four days, you know those systems, you can totally troubleshoot them,” Brown said.