Why the Marine Industry Needs to Invest in Education

The Great Lakes Boat Building School has a proven track record of educating skilled marine workers.

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Great Lakes Boatbuilding School with funding from Tiara
The Great Lakes Boatbuilding School received funding from Tiara. Courtesy Tiara Yachts

The marine industry has certainly faced some interesting challenges. It has truly been a rollercoaster ride recently between COVID-19, supply chain issues and hiring challenges. These external threats resulted in maritime trade contracting by 3.8 percent in 2020, followed by 58 percent of marine manufacturers experiencing supply chain issues and an average of $27 billion being spent annually on additional freight costs caused by congestion. It would appear all these circumstances have created a perfect storm for almost any business that is attempting to grow.

Yet, the U.S. demand for new powerboats reached a 13-year high in 2020 with nearly 320,000 units sold. Quantities like this had not been seen since prior to the Great Recession in 2008. Outdoor recreation contributes significantly to America’s economy. It creates $689 billion in economic output while supporting 4.3 million jobs.

With this level of desire in the market, there is an urgent need for skilled labor, but this problem isn’t new. The people side of our business has been something we’ve been voicing concerns about since the last recession. However, I’ve recently discovered one solution in finding skilled marine carpenters and technicians.

The Great Lakes Boat Building School (GLBBS), located in Cedarville, MI, is the only marine industry school in the Great Lakes region. The school has been there for quite some time, but, until recently, the curriculum was largely focused on wood boat building skills. Today, it includes mechanical systems, thanks to a significant sponsorship from Mercury, and has also expanded into composites. This is exactly the type of program our industry has been longing for. This school is a reality, not just future hype. GLBBS currently trains up to 24 students annually, but the plan for the new facility would allow it to grow that number up to 100 students each year. To date, they have trained more than 200 individuals in the industry, and they have a 100 percent career placement rate over the last six years.

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Tom Slikkers CEO Tiara Yachts
Tom Slikkers, CEO and President, Tiara Yachts. Courtesy Tiara Yachts

During a recent visit, I recognized the important role GLBBS plays in supporting the marine industry and the equally important role leaders in the industry have in ensuring the future of these schools. Tiara Yachts has invested in both the capital campaign to expand the physical size of the school and in two sponsorships for students going forward. I’m certain that Tiara Yachts can make a positive impact upon the school, but just imagine the impact our industry could make if we invested in this school and others like it, together. Whether we invest via funds, time, or mentorship, I believe supporting this program and others like it is how we right the ship when it comes to our need for skilled people in our field.

Tom Slikkers is CEO and President of Tiara Yachts. He has worked in the marine industry for more than four decades beginning his career as a Summer Employee at S2 Yachts, a sail and powerboat company founded by his father, Leon Slikkers. As S2 Yachts grew, so did Tom’s career, working his way up the ranks through sales and leadership positions. Throughout his career, Tom worked as President of Pursuit Boats, a brand within the S2 Yachts portfolio focused on sport fishing models. In 2018, Tom participated in the successful divestment of the Pursuit brand in sale of Pursuit Boats to Malibu Boats. Tom is currently the President and CEO of Tiara Yachts, a position he’s held since 2012. He’s passionate about leadership, building and nurturing a team, new product development and facilitating organizations forward.

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