Selling a career aboard a megayacht

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Industry group pitches sportscars, bikinis and beaches as the perks of working on the water

Industry group pitches sportscars, bikinis and beaches as the perks of working on the water

One hundred jobs go begging at The Crew Network, a Fort Lauderdale agency that finds crew for megayachts.

Engineers, deckhands and stewards are in especially short supply, says Stephanie Phelan, the firm’s crew consultant. Boatyards need carpenters, mechanics and painters. Builders are crying for fiberglass workers and engine, air-conditioning and mechanical technicians.

South Florida’s $4.8 billion marine industry employs more than 162,000 people in jobs ranging from yacht design to fiberglass repair to skippering sportfishing boats, yet the region’s marine businesses are chronically short of workers, says Gordon Connell, association services director for the Marine Industries Association of South Florida.

“We need to attract and keep people,” he says.

Unemployment in Broward County is about 3 percent, accounting for a big part of the labor crunch, says Kristen Cavallini-Soothill, who chairs an MIASF committee tasked with getting the word out: “Help Wanted.” She says many job seekers are not aware of the employment opportunities at marinas, boatyards, design shops and marine service businesses, and on hundreds of sportfishing boats and megayachts based in South Florida. “Our biggest problem is visibility,” she says.

With that in mind, MIASF applied for a $52,000 grant from WorkForce One, a quasi-public agency that deals with work force issues in Broward County, and with WorkForce’s help produced a DVD, “Navigate Your Career,” about job and career opportunities in the marine industry.

A stewardess touts the adventure of working on a megayacht. A sportfisherman captain arrives at the dock in a sports car with a beautiful woman at the wheel, and says he’s living the good life. Video of beaches, bikinis, boats and sparkling blue water highlight the more obvious attractions of working around boats.

“We want people’s hearts to pound,” Connell says. “We want them to see what makes people so passionate about working in the marine industry.”

Focused on marinas, boatyards, yacht design, yacht crew, service businesses and education, the DVD will be distributed to career counselors at middle schools, high schools and universities, and will be available for viewing at employment centers and job fairs.

Cavallini-Soothill says MIASF is taking some innovative steps to draw people into the industry. The association has sponsored weeklong “boot camps” to recruit and screen workers, and educate them in job and education opportunities. MIASF has helped launch middle school and high school marine magnet programs that introduce students to marine-related academic disciplines and a high-school vocational program teaching marine engine mechanics, welding, marine technology and refinishing. MIASF also is working with Broward Community College to set up a community college marine trades program in 2008.

In November the Boys and Girls Clubs of Broward County plans to open a $2.5 million Admirals Marine Academy offering 13- to 20-year-olds after-school instruction in woodworking, cabinetry, marine electronics, cooking and interior design. Clubs president David Hughes says the program will provide vocational training, and help young people see that they don’t necessarily need a college degree to have a good job and a successful career. He hopes to send academy students on to high school and community college marine trades programs.

The industry also is trying to recruit more second-career workers. David Hare, captain of a 100-foot expedition yacht, Thunder, has successfully hired and trained older, more mature workers as crewmembers. One, with a law degree, worked her way up to mate on Thunder. “I hire people who look like they have a lot of potential and personality,” he says. “They may not have the skill set, but I can teach them that.” www.crewnetwork.com