WESTERLY — As a large segment of the marine trades workforce nears retirement age, the owner of a local boat yard says replacement workers are scarce.
“There’s a tremendous nationwide struggle to find people who want to work in this industry. The average age of our worker is 50 to 60 now and very few are coming up as junior people in the pipeline,” said John Hall, the third generation owner of Frank Hall Boat Yard in Avondale.
Hall worked with the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association to help develop a marine trades and composites pre-apprenticeship training program that is set to begin Monday at the Westerly Education Center. Community College of Rhode Island developed the training curriculum and will provide the training. The three-week program will expose participants to the basics of carpentry, welding, painting, forklift operation, marine systems, safety and other areas, as well as on-the-job experience in a short-term internship.
The curriculum will also touch on composite materials such as fiberglass and carbon-fiber, which are used in boat building and in other industries and recreational sports.
The program, which is being paid for by Real Jobs Rhode Island, is free to students. Students must be at least 18. No previous boating experience is necessary.
The training program will put participants in position to work in a variety of coastal communities, said Amy Grzybowski, Westerly Education Center executive director. “This new program is another chance for residents to get free training that is linked with employers who are committed to hiring our local talent. The local boatyards need employees all year round. This is the first step in a possible career, not only in Westerly, but any of our coastal communities,” Grzybowski said.
Hall said his employees perform a variety of tasks from marine engine repair and maintenance to cleaning boats. They also haul boats out of the water and prepare them for winter storage. Knot tying is also an important skill, he said.
Hall, who is a member of Rhode Island Marine Trades Association and past president of the American Boat Builders & Repairers Association, said the program will help expose participants and the public to marine trades. “I think we’ve finally figured out that not everyone has to go to college. There are also technical jobs and industries, and a boatyard is one of those industries, where you can make a good living,” he said.
Spaces for the training were still available as of Wednesday. Students interested in the program should apply directly through the Rhode Island Marines Trades Association: https://secure.jotform.us/form/52654040392148 or contact Brian Dursi at Brian@RIMTA.org.