Hinckley Yachts to launch apprenticeship program at R.I. yard
The marine industry will hit a bump in the next 2 to 20 years as a graying baby-boomer workforce moves from payrolls to Social Security. Some companies in the industry have projected they will lose up to 60 percent of their current team during that period alone.
Unemployment may be on the downslope but it is still riding uncomfortably high, lingering just below eight percent for two consecutive months. Finding unemployed workers isn't the hard part. The difficulty many are facing is finding someone who has the right skills for the marine trades.
There's a skills gap, with many unemployed people, especially the younger talent pool, lacking the necessary training and experience to bridge their previous work experience across other industries. There are also many who have been out of work for long periods and are falling behind their peers who have up-to-date job experience.
Hinckley Yachts of Rhode Island sees the problem about to swell for its business, projecting that it could lose half of its staff to retirement over the course of the next 2 to 15 years. To replace 60 of its current staff as they head into retirement, general manager Guy Gauvin says the company will have to train 6 to 8 people a year, not factoring into account potential growth of the industry and of the yard itself. For a yard that relies heavily on the quality of its work for return customers as well as new referrals, the skill of its workers translates directly into the success of the business.
Hinckley seeks solution
To find the next generation of staff, Hinckley has developed an apprenticeship program within its Rhode Island yard and marina that is set to begin in January. The program will pair up fresh applicants and current employees with one of the company's tenured staff for specific training.
In the beginning, Hinckley will be cross-training many current employees across different aspects of repair and maintenance, improving the company's overall talent pool. And the staff is excited to get started.
"It's been received very well," Gauvin said. "Even our current employees that have been with us for awhile, they're expressing interest and excitement."
Developing the program
The qualifications for Hinckley's apprenticeship program were developed by the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association, which consulted with employers and other industry stakeholders to ensure that the qualifications under the program would be industry relevant and accepted. Under the program, students will be provided with a pathway for growth throughout the company, allowing them to easily move up within the company as they progress through the different levels.
"If you're a kid coming out of high school and are brought into the program, it's basically a career stepping stone where you come in as a trade apprentice, where some are two and some as many as five years, at the end of the program, if you want to be a trade foreman you have that stepping stone," Gauvin said. "The stepping stones go all the way up to yard manager."
About 90 percent of the work and training will be hands-on and learned during a regular eight-hour shift, but for more specialized coursework in blueprint reading and mathematics, courses will be held during normal shift times. The yard is working hard to ensure that employee workloads remain balanced.
Entrants into the apprenticeship program will begin in a Boatbuilding Foundation Skills pre-apprenticeship that will train them in the marine industry and basic aspects of boatbuilding. Once a student has graduated this program, they will be able to move onto marine cabinetmaking, marine systems engineer, marine rigger, interior and/or exterior marine painter and marine electrical and electronic technician. From there, apprentices can move to the next level as a trade foreman or service writer.
Finding its next generation
In order to find these new workers, Hinckley had to look in many directions. The state is providing help, along with industry vocational schools, and the yard is even eyeing many of its younger employees to fill future openings.
In the beginning, Gauvin said the company will pull from the few existing younger employees and evaluate where they can fit within the program.
"When we get into the training portion, we're going to cross-rain them across a bunch of different trades," Gauvin said. "This gives a more flexible talent pool for the future. If there's another downturn, we'll be able to more easily adapt to it."
Working with IYRS and The Landing School, two marine specific vocational schools, Hinckley will be able to rank the skill sets of interested apprentices from other schools alongside the current program.
Finally, Hinckley will be working directly with the State of Rhode Island to help vet members for its program. The state will be searching its unemployment lines for candidates who could potentially fit within the apprenticeship program that Hinckley has developed, finding the next generation of the marine industry within those who need jobs most.