Employment needs in the marine sector are diverse – and a significant portion of the necessary labour is highly skilled and in short supply.
PHILIPSBURG–The upcoming season for the marine industry, from November until May next year, will be very busy, predicts St. Maarten Marine Trades Association (SMMTA) president Christopher Marshall. “Although this is an exciting prospect, it is also the reality that St. Maarten does not have enough skilled technicians to meet the demand created by the sector.”
Employment needs in the marine sector are diverse – and a significant portion of the necessary labour is highly skilled and in short supply. “The required competences and skill sets require years of education and training, a training that does not currently exist in St. Maarten,” Marshall said. “It is thus necessary, in the short term, to import certain labour to secure the position of the marine sector while providing training and apprenticeship for the future local labour pool.”
Local companies are in need of the full scope of skills – from riggers (specialists in masts and everything that works to hold the masts up) to engine technicians, electricians, hydraulicians and mechanics; from carbon and composite technicians to yacht-standard painters, logistics experts (scaffolding, covering, protecting) to woodworkers for teak and interior works; from carpet layers to welders and divers for underwater hull cleaning.
These jobs are also high paying. The average salary for a skilled marine technician or mechanic in the United States is almost $19 an hour, while the average for a lead technician is more than $23 an hour. For workers with several years of experience, these jobs can pay as much as $70,000 to $80,000 a year, according to surveys.
According to SMMTA, the local marine industry desperately needs an action plan with assistance from government in terms of meeting the short-term demand while longer-term strategies are put in place – including significant training and education. “This will both promote local employment and foster the development of our marine sector,” said Marshall.
The Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labor VSA, and its Labour Department, recognising the significant opportunity to develop skilled and well-paid employment in the maritime sector, recently signed a service legal agreement (SLA) with the SMMTA. This agreement is intended to be the first step in a cooperation to imagine and execute a full training and apprenticeship programme.
Progress on the project was slowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Marshall said, “but SMMTA anticipates working closely with the relevant government stakeholders to move this project forward at a fast pace.”
The goal of this SLA is to establish a certified training programme with both classroom and hands-on experience, followed by a multi-year apprenticeship programme, Marshall explained. The programme would have multiple components – including early outreach to local primary schools, continued outreach into middle and high schools, with a well-defined professional programme that would allow long-term skilled employment.
There is a great need for an integrated training programme for professionals in St. Maarten, Marshall stressed.
“The will and enthusiasm to further develop the marine sector is not lacking. Entities like NIPA [National Institute for Professional Advancement – Ed.] and Kids at Sea Foundation are trying very hard to get the youth involved in the marine sector. Young St. Maarteners can have a great career working in a successful and resilient industry in the future, but what we desperately need at the moment are people with the skills to get the job done while passing on their knowledge to our youth.”
To secure the future of the marine sector and its ability to provide these high-skilled high-paid jobs, SMMTA argues that the island must have an interim moment where outside labour is permitted. “This skilled labour is the key to any future plan – as the development of these skills is a 5-10 year prospect. If we act now, it will be St. Maarten’s current high school graduates training the next generation of workers,” Marshall emphasised. “This is the exact vision to which the SMMTA is working.
“Not only is training the local labour in these skills good for the island and its residents, it is also good business, as it will secure St. Maarten’s position in the marine market. Even more, Holland is internationally known as a yachting hub – claiming some of the best new build, refit and maintenance facilities and marine technical businesses in the world. Any training programme in St. Maarten can benefit from term exchange programmes within the Dutch Kingdom.”
There are currently more than 15,000 yachts in the world with professional, qualified yacht crew, and the industry is growing rapidly each year.
“A career in yachting can be rewarding, exciting and a wonderful opportunity to travel,” Marshall said. “We have barely begun to map out all possibilities in the field of employment and training in St. Maarten. It is very important that we delve into this further and take action.”
Not only would this further solidify St. Maarten’s place as the yachting capital of the region, but it would also create high-skilled high-paying jobs at a time that we are desperate for exactly that, Marshall concluded.
~ This is the third article in a series about the St Maarten marine sector. ~