Fort Lauderdale is often dubbed the ‘Yachting Capital of the World’. No wonder. There’s over 300 miles of inland waterways, 24 miles of Atlantic coastline in the city’s Broward County and some 50,000-plus registered yachts of all types, from powerboats to sailboats and megayachts. However, and perhaps less commonly known, Fort Lauderdale and the whole of South Florida is the ‘Yachting Employment Capital of the World’. Consider that the yacht refit and repair business in the southern part of the Sunshine State accounts for a large portion of the marine industry’s 136,000 jobs and $11.5 billion economic impact, including nearly $4.05 billion in wages and earnings in the tri-county area of Broward, Dade and Palm Beach, according to data provided by the Fort Lauderdale-headquartered, Marine Industries Association of South Florida (MIASF). What’s more, salaries in the marine industry are typically 28 percent higher than the state average. This makes the city and whole of South Florida the happiest place on earth for skilled marine tradesmen and women.
“The marine industry, as a legacy industry in Florida, has many multi-generational businesses, shipyards, marinas, and entrepreneurial enterprises,” says Kelly Skidmore, MIASF’s public relations specialist. “However, external impacts, such as public policy decisions over the decades and Baby Boomers retiring at a faster pace than younger workers can replace them, have created a shortage of skilled tradesmen.”
Needs for skilled workers run across the career spectrum in the marine industry. This includes everything from painters to plumbers, carpenters, welders, diesel mechanics, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) experts, and much more.
“Electrical and plumbing specialists who have their certifications are especially in demand,” says Michele Caspari, operations manager at Fort Lauderdale-based Elite Marine Yacht Services, which concentrates on the design and installation of HVAC equipment on superyachts. “Few people are skilled in both.”
For companies such as High Seas Yacht Service, a Fort Lauderdale-headquartered company that focuses on precision engine, strut and shaft alignments, it is mechanics and technicians that are highly sought after. “Particularly those that specialize in large megayacht running gear and hydraulic technicians that are knowledgeable on all types of marine hydraulic systems,” says spokesperson, Lee Pernice. “Skills and training needed on the mechanics side, for example, include gear mechanics, basic mechanical skills and being good in math. When our mechanics work on engine alignments or shaft straightening, thousands of an inch off could mean the difference between a smooth ride and vibration under load.”
In Broward County alone, there are several marine magnet programs at the middle-school and high school level, as well as marine technical services and vocational schools. One of these is Broward College, which offers a two-year Associate of Applied Science in Marine Engineering Management degree. Courses that make up this degree included marine technology, marine electricity, marine electronics, marine diesel, inboard/outboard saildrive and transmission, marine auxiliary equipment, marine corrosion and prevention and advanced marine composites.
“It’s a well-rounded program that enables a student on graduation to be well-rounded and walk into a shipyard and be multifaceted,” says Dr. Sean Gallagan, associate dean for transportation programs. “We graduate 25 students every 4 to 5 months and most have already been in dialogue with employers since after their first semester. That’s the level of the workforce shortage. It’s definitely an employee’s market. Ironically, many people, even here in South Florida, don’t know these types of careers exist.”
Organizations such as MIASF are working closely with its members to increase the profile of the industry as well as the number of on-the-job training opportunities available for students right out of high school or with some college courses under their belt. In addition, marine companies themselves are actively encouraging more young people to consider working in the marine industry.
“We have hosted teacher field trips at our facility to teach teachers about the opportunities in our industry and pass that information on to their students who are not college-bound,” says Staci Love, marketing manager for the Lauderdale Marine Center, in Fort Lauderdale, which is the largest shipyard in the world and home to over 60 marine contractors. “Last month, we hosted another event where 30 high school students were invited to see our shipyard and what goes on here.”
Caspari, at Elite Marine Yacht Services sums up well not only the opportunities but the benefits of a career in South Florida’s marine industry. “Within five years of graduating from a two-year tech school, you can be making $28 an hour or upwards of $60,000 annually before you turn 30, and that’s with full health and retirement benefits. Plus, the South Florida yachting industry isn’t going anywhere. People will always own boats and there will always be a need for trained serviceman to fix and maintain them.” Look for Marine Industry Jobs here.