Marine industry begins hiring, carefully

February 2012 News

MINNEAPOLIS - The marine industry is hiring again, Neal Harrell of Brooks Marine Group told Boating Industry in an interview, but not like they ever have before.

They're hiring carefully, just like customers are taking longer to make the decision to jump in and start boating. OEM boatbuilders are taking longer to start hiring and they're taking longer to make sure they're getting the right person, which hasn't been easy to find.

Are there any particular markets that are in the biggest need for good workers?

We're seeing the most demand right now for a couple of areas.

In the boatyard arena, it's the trades position. I'm talking about mechanics, painters, marine carpenters, marine electricians, and that's really due to the fact that we have an aging trades population, and as an industry, we haven't done a very food job of filling the pipeline with new, younger talent.

And so if you look at the landscape of our industry today, the average boatyard has a pretty senior, tenured staff and so that the problem has become: okay, so that guy is retiring in the next three years or five years, what are we going to do to replace that individual?

Conversely, on the OEM boatbuilding side, which is I think the best news for our industry, is that finally some OEM boatbuilders are hiring, and it's in the areas of new product development. Engineering, as I look at some of our bigger boat clients, it's naval architecture.

It's in the area of production management, so if we're going to come out with a new line, we're going to need someone to run that line, who can run that line and bring us some efficient manufacturing methodologies like Lean, Six Sigma, or formal quality training.

So businesses are starting to build up and they're looking for people help them grow again.

Yeah, the way I put it is, companies are hiring, but they're hiring smarter than they ever have. They're being cautious about new hiring. They're vetting candidates more than they ever have, and at the same time, it's as difficult a recruiting landscape as I've seen in in the 15 years I've been in the recruiting business.

First is that top talent as a rule is still employed. If you're going to be forced to do a 20 percent, 30 percent, or 50 percent workforce reduction the last couple years, generally it's not your best people.

Part of that is also that they're more risk averse and think that "if I leave this company now where I know I'm secure, and I go to this new company and we see a double-dip recession or things don't go well, might I be a casualty of what I call `last in, first out?'" So, individuals are worried about that.

And then third, the biggest influencer often times on whether or not a candidate will or will not pursue a new opportunity is relocation. Relocation is often impacted by housing, and this housing market has really put a wrench in on individuals' ability to move or relocate.

Do you know what could be causing the significant uptick in marine hiring? Have other industry trends been contributing to the need?

Well, there's a few things: Used boat prices are starting to stabilize, you're not seeing these crazy bargains and deals that you were seeing a year ago and a couple of years ago. It's happening quickest in the small boat market, you know the 15-30 foot market. Where we've finally liquidated a lot of the either the repo boats or the brokerage boats and because there aren't as many deals out there anymore, perspective owners are looking for new product.

You get 30-50 foot, it's sort of hit and miss. Some of that stuff is starting to stabilize, but I think the sector of our industry that continues to suffer the most is the motoryacht world, the 40-70 foot production motoryacht, and I think its that brokerage market there's too much product out there at too good of a price for an individual to consider a new boat in that segment.

People talk about pent up demand I think there's some of that going on. In the past three years, there have been a lot of advancements made in new product development, and people want the latest and greatest. I think there's a generally better economic optimism about what's going on out there, and there's certainly more money available than there was a couple of years ago. Lenders are opening up a little bit more.

And finally there's that lifestyle component, people that love boats, love boats, and they want to spend time on the water, and I think that will always be the case. They may sit on the sidelines when things are particularly rough, but right now people are seeing the economy start to turn a little bit, some growth going on and so hey, let's go ahead and buy that boat.

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