Boating Industry Growth with Workforce Development and Engaging Kids in Boating

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Randall Lyons, Executive Dir of the Massachusetts Marine Trades Association, addresses industry workforce challenges and getting more kids on the water

Anchors AweighAnchors Aweigh Boating Podcast is a podcast for all boaters, from aspiring to experienced. Featuring in-depth conversations with boating experts and industry leaders, and packed full of tips, tricks, gear, and industry info, boaters of all levels will come away with new skills and knowledge each episode.

Though many would agree that times are good in the marine industry right now, it is never too soon to address challenges that will affect the industry in the future. Two of these challenges that have been top of mind for everyone from manufacturers to dealers to marinas is the need for more workforce development, and the aging of our boating customer.

The Massachusetts Marine Trades Association has been out in front of these issues and have developed some great initiatives to address them head on.

Randall Lyons’ career in the marine industry spans more than 20 years and he is currently the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Marine Trades Association. Prior to his role with the Trades Association, Randall had extensive experience in the marina world managing the Newburyport Marina on the North shore of Massachusetts, and as Director of Communications for the Nantucket Boat Basin. Randall also got a taste of the dealership side of the business working for Russo Marine.

Randall’s success is exhibit A of how getting a foot in the door in the marina industry can lead to a long and fulfilling career – Randall’s first boating job was cleaning toilets at the Boat Basin, where he would later rise to the Director level!

Randall didn’t grow up boating but quickly found that it was a passion of his and he decided to turn it into a career. And now he has the opportunity to raise his two children in the boating lifestyle.

We discussed some of the great initiatives Randall’s organization is working on to address industry challenges including getting more people into the work force and more kids on the water, and Randall had some great advice for people considering the boating lifestyle. Enjoy!

Be sure to click on links to listen to the full podcast interview at the end!

The current work of the MMTA

We have an Educational Trust that’s focused on workforce development as a key initiative and then a newer initiative we’ve been focusing on on is our Kids in Boating.

We’ve determined that one of the main reasons the shortage is out there is because not a lot of people know about boating industry jobs. We decided one of the ways we could help support that is to create an industry video to focus on what jobs are available and just a quick overview of the boating industry that will highlight it and get people to ask more questions. Once we decided to create that video we determined that we needed somewhere for people to follow up so we built

At the end of the day, it’s educating people about the boating industry and making sure they’re aware that we’re predicting thousands of jobs in the future right here in Massachusetts let alone on a national level.

The industry messaging needed

The boating industry is just a great place to work. That fact alone is what needs to be the driving force around the workforce development issue were having. We need to get that word out there starting at a young age. We’re very fortunate to work with people that are doing a recreational activity that makes them happy. Those are our clients. You can have a great successful fulfilling life in the future and its an awesome place to work.

His start in the boat industry

I started in college and was given the opportunity to take a summer job on Nantucket Island at the Nantucket Boat Basin and I started out cleaning the 18 bathroom facilities at the Boat Basin. I did that for three summers and worked my way up to a year-round position and stayed there for seven years. That was my start and those are the stories you gotta hear more about – start out small and work your way up and make a career out of an industry that’s a great place to work.

Our clients, boaters

They are guests at the end of the day. They’re not just your customers, they turn into your family and that certainly is your goal. The key word is the boating lifestyle. That’s a key element of success stories for businesses that are doing well right now. They understand that it’s not just an activity, it is a lifestyle.

People are passionate about the work and the boaters are passionate about their time that they get to spend on the water. They want to maximize their time on the water and enjoy it as much as possible and that goes back to the workforce development issue. If you have a boater that is told the backup is 6-10 weeks, it may cause them to get out of boating or consider another activity.

How marine businesses can improve the lifestyle experience

I like to see marinas and dealers doing more for their guests, offering them more activities, seminars, and events and encourage them to stick around and make sure they are enjoying the lifestyle to the maximum.

Getting kids involved with boating

The statistic that is thrown out there typically is that the boating industry is aging 6 months every year. The more we can do today to get kids on the water, the better off our industry could be in the future.

boating with kids lyons

We created a KIDS in BOATING initiative. We offer grants out to non-profit boating groups in Massachusetts. We also created what is now called Mass Kids Boating Day to help support kids boating events that are taking place in Massachusetts. Ideally this concept will grow on a national level.

In 2017 there were 4 events that we helped support and three of those were touch-a-boat events. In 2018 we’re going to focus it over two different weekends and try to partner with a couple of other groups on a national level.

His personal boating

I grew up on the South Shore so I was always working around the waterfront but didn’t grow up boating. Now, with two kids, I can see that be the reverse for them and have my kids grow up to be boaters.

On the statistical front, 70% of adult boaters started boating when they were younger so we do need to get them involved at a younger age. The goal, starting with a 12’ boat, is to grow and continue boating in the future. I would say the center console would be the next step. Sea Ray, Robalo, Boston Whaler and I have to mention Grady White. It’s stepping up in size and making sure it’s a little bit safer.

The state of the industry

The vast majority of our members are doing well and were able to plan more for the future because businesses are doing well. Dealers are selling more boats. We have smarter consumers and that helps businesses step up their game. Marinas are filling more slips, service is up, people are using their boats more which helps fuel. Its been a strong run.

What potential boaters should know

There’s a misconception that the boating industry is only for the wealthy. 72% of boaters have a household income under $100,000. 95% of boats are trailerable boats under 26’. The industry in general is doing a better job today making sure people are aware of the affordability of boating. Discover Boating does a fantastic job on that front. Make sure people know you can start off small and continue to grow if you want!

Randall’s group is doing some great things, please do check them out no matter where you do your boating!

Listen to the full Podcast:

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Listen on iTunes: Randall Lyons – January 15, 2018 (free)

Listen on Google Play: Randall Lyons – January 15, 2018 (free)

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Matt O'Hara

View posts by Matt O'Hara
Matt O’Hara is the owner, along with his wife Rebecca, of Freedom Boat Club Lake George and the Queen Boat Co marina. After a 10-year career in media sales in Boston, MA Matt and Rebecca decided to relocate and open their own Freedom Boat Club, where they could share their love of boating and Lake George by helping others get on the water. The best part of the new career has been the joy they see families having on the water day in and day out, making memories that will last a lifetime. Matt has combined his background in media with his move to the boating industry to launch Anchors Aweigh, a podcast for boaters.
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