When you think of Miami-Dade, yachts and shipyards often come to mind. But while this industry employs over 100,000 technically certified workers in the South Florida area, Miami-Dade itself has no training programs to supply the workforce. That’s soon to change, however, as the county will now have its own marine technology jobs training program through Miami-Dade Technical Colleges, a division of Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
County Commissioner Frank Carollo has donated $235,000 to the new program from his poverty-initiative fund, along with a $100,000 donation from the Miami Bayside Foundation, a nonprofit designed to advance economic development in the city of Miami. The two donations will go toward the one-time fixed costs for the program. The program will start with 20 spots for prospective students, 14 of which have already been filled. The program takes 18 months to complete and classes begin in August at Lindsey Hopkins Technical College.
According to the Occupational Handbook published on Dec. 17 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for this career is $17.95 hourly and $37,340 annually. The industry is expected to grow 6 percent through the year 2022.
Nathan Kurland, chairman of the Miami Bayside Foundation, believes the program has a strong potential for job creation in Miami-Dade.
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“We have 61 boatyards that have a tremendous need for certified repair people for inboard and outboard engines,” Kurland said. “We have this huge industry in Florida and we don’t really address it at all. It’s easy to forget how many stakeholders are in this industry and the amazing potential for job creation it has.”
Horacio Stuart Aguirre, the board president of the Miami River Commission, helped gather support for the program. Aguirre is optimistic about the potential of the program, which will start by providing technical certifications in inboard and outboard engine repair. In the future, certifications in maritime plumbing and electrical systems will be added.
“The tricks of the trade used in the 1960s and ’70s in yacht servicing are completely obsolete today and perhaps even nonexistent. What used to be referred to as ‘boat paints’ are now sophisticated two-part epoxy ‘coatings’ with serious instructions as to preparation and application. Electronics is as complex today as in commercial and general aviation,” Aguirre said.
RMK Merrill-Stevens, one of Miami’s oldest shipyards at just over 130 years, is on the lookout for certified workers. CEO Mike Frank says the company is looking to hire several of these certified technicians in the next year for its repair and maintenance services. According to Frank, the demand for these workers comes as a result of the current workforce aging out.
“This program is a great thing for the marine industry because it’s getting younger people involved,” Frank said. “A lot of our skilled artisans are coming on in age, if you know what I mean. Our guys have the skills; there just aren’t a lot of young people to pass those skills on to.”
Lubby Navarro, the District 7 representative to the School Board of Miami-Dade County, put forth an initiative supporting the creation of the program last year. Her efforts, in cooperation with that of Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, led to the passing of a resolution that will provide classroom facilities for the program starting at Lindsey Hopkins Technical College.
Navarro recalls a conversation she once had with U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who told her that “If you don’t see it, then you can’t dream about it.” For Navarro, this sums up what she is aiming to do with the maritime education program.
“Connecting these students to this industry, showing them what the port looks like and what kind of jobs you can get there, is just so important. These students don’t know what kind of opportunities are available at the ports,” Navarro said. “I’ve met students right out of high school that have done these programs and are now making $60,000 a year. Seeing that, I realized that this was the way to go. I want that for our community.”