Coastal Pines Technical College rolled out plans for a new diploma program during a presentation at the Georgia Marine Workforce Summit last week at Crooked River State Park.
Camden area students will have the opportunity in the near future to earn a 40-hour marine engine technology diploma at the college, which also will offer 15- and 17-hour certificate programs for basic marine engine technician and basic marine servicing technician.
The program fits into the economic development agenda that the Joint Development Authority hopes will bring more employers and more jobs to the county.
Meeting of the minds
The JDA organized the summit so that representatives from the boating industry could explain their staffing and training needs to specialists in workforce, education and government.
The group included a host of marine businesses, nonprofits like the Georgia Marine Business Association and American Boat Builders and Repairers Association, and government agencies like Georgia Department of Labor and WorkSource Georgia. Several local education representatives also attended, including program directors from the public school system and the College of Coastal Georgia.
“Camden County and St. Marys in particular … are aggressively pursuing the marine industry as an industry sector we are trying to develop,” said JDA director James Coughlin. “And in the course of doing so, some of our current employers and some prospective employers that are considering moving to the area have identified workforce as their No. 1 concern.”
Coughlin said this is just the first step in an ongoing dialogue he hopes will continue beyond the summit.
The JDA currently has an option to purchase 50 acres of the former paper mill site at the St. Marys waterfront and hopes to develop into a marine center with some light commercial and residential area surrounding it. The Wharf at St. Marys is envisioned as a place to purchase, store and repair boats.
An industry problem
Workforce concerns are an industry-wide issue, said marine representatives, who gathered in small groups at the summit to talk about those challenges and how they are currently meeting their training needs.
According to the group, private marinas, refit centers and builders are having trouble recruiting, training and retaining quality workers, especially in skilled trades like electrical, diesel and HVAC.
“Any trade skills are hard to find,” said Doug Cratch of Insetta Boatworks, which is based in St. Marys.
Industry representatives at the local summit provided examples of the challenges they face with staffing. They agreed that it is difficult to find entry-level employees with the right baseline skills so most of the training occurs on the job.
Former military personnel often make good candidates for those jobs because they are highly employable and employers are willing to train those types of workers, they said. However, proximity to a military base also means private employers often lose good employees to jobs on base once they become fully trained.
A new career pathway
Glenn Diebert, president of Coastal Pines, said his institution is looking at several major sectors, in addition to the marine industry, to identify how to better train workers for jobs in high demand. He believes with some basic marine training, the community should have ample bodies to fill those jobs.
Diebert said about 30 percent of today’s high school graduates immediately attend a four-year college, but what about the rest?
“You’ve got 400 some kids rolling out of Camden County High School every year looking for a job,” he said.
Programs like this one allow students to get those baseline skills in a fraction of the time than a traditional university, with the same income potential as many jobs requiring a degree.
Several of the industry representatives said they would be interested in hiring those who had the certifications described in the Coastal Pines curriculum. The same program is being implemented by the technical college system in Lake Lanier in north Georgia, Diebert said.
Industry representatives said more internships and apprenticeships also would be helpful, preferably starting at the high-school level. Education representatives noted that the foundation for establishing those partnerships is already in place among the various local institutions.
Coastal Pines Technical College received funding during the 2018 legislative session to build a new campus near Exit 3 off Interstate 95 in Kingsland. It currently offers classes out of the Camden Center of College of Coastal Georgia.
During the summit, state Rep. John Corbett of District 174, presented Diebert with a pen that was used by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal to sign the 2019 budget, which funded the new campus.