Marine alliance touts education, workforce recruitment advances

Posted on May 31, 2011 :: Insight on Business, Web Exclusive.
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Focused marine industry technical education and a new, web-based means of finding skilled workers were named as two of the top achievements of the North Coast Marine Manufacturing Alliance.

Formed last September, the alliance is a regional ship building industry partnership involving seven marine manufacturers and three higher educational institutions. The group held a news conference Friday in Green Bay to announce its new website.

“We felt … it made sense for us to get together as a group to help define this core curriculum that would help train our future employees,” says Mark Spicknall, alliance chair and director of production control at Marinette Marine Corp.

Jeff Rafn, president of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, says the college worked early on with Marinette Marine to ensure the company could prove to the U.S. Navy that it had a strong regional educational system for workforce development as it vied for contracts for the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship. From that, it was natural to get other ship and yacht builders involved in workforce development issues, Rafn says.

Marinette Marine did land further LCS contracts, and to fulfill this work, is expected to hire up to 1,000 workers over the next couple of years. Other alliance members also say they are growing and have a need for strong regional education.

This fall, says Rafn, NWTC will offer an entry level “Introduction to Marine” course, as well as courses as part of two focused programs: a two-year Marine Engineering Technology program, and a one-year Marine Construction program. Rafn says about 16 to 20 students are expected per course this fall. Television ads about these programs will begin airing Wednesday.

Rafn also notes other education institutions that are part of the alliance also offer educational programs for the marine industry. “We wanted to begin to create a focus for education—for the marine industry,” he says. “We’ve been able to do that.”

The alliance members at the press conference also touted the organization’s new Web site, found at http://northcoastmma.org. Especially useful for manufacturers in the alliance, says Spicknall, is the “Careers” section of the site, which allows people to fill out a profile delineating their skills.  

“I think it’s an important and significant functionality within the Web site,” says Spicknall. “I know our HR folks are looking forward to using this.”

Pete Bilski, VP of human resources with Manitowoc-based Burger Boat Company, says the Web site should help alliance members save on recruitment costs. More importantly, he adds, the targeted workforce development will strengthen the competitive position of the region’s marine manufacturers.  “How to do you meet global competition? This is it—right here. It’s in education—in building up your workforce to have a higher skill level than anybody,” Bliski says.

The alliance includes manufacturers ACE Marine LLC, Bay Shipbuilding Corporation, Burger Boat, Cruiser Yachts, Marinette Marine, Marquis Yachts and Palmer Johnson together with educational institutions NWTC, Lakeshore Technical College and University of Wisconsin – Marinette.

After the press conference, Sharon Huntley, director of continuing education at UW-Marinette, says the college will offer four different courses for the marine industry this fall, a couple of which might have more than one class. Between 40 to 60 students are expected to be spread across these four courses.

–By Roberto Michel