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Internationally transferable NZ Marine apprenticeship training programme effectively targets global boat builder workforce

Tuesday, 03 November 2015



With funding opportunities available to support the delivery of practical, on the job apprenticeships boatyards are leveraging the licensing of tailored material from New Zealand’s mature marine training organisation to drive business sustainability and growth.

Severe skill shortages in the marine industry led MetalCraft Marine to turn their eyes Pacific-ward to New Zealand and the NZ Marine and Composites Industry Training Organisation. Three years ago the North American based specialists in high-speed Aluminium workboats for industrial military and government applications experienced significant expansion. From employing 50 staff to over 150, MetalCraft Marine’s president, Tom Wroe, sought to futureproof the company through creating a team of master craftsmen who understood the build process holistically from design brief to client delivery.

“We needed to upskill employees so they could handle further growth and take on leadership positions in the company” says Wroe. “I knew we wanted a training programme that would take people who just happened to work in a boatyard and turn them into people who self-identified as boat builders.“

In 2011 at the International Boat Builders Exhibition and Conference (IBEX) Chris van der Hor, General Manager of the NZ Marine & Composites Industry Training Organisation, outlined a case study that demonstrated the positive long-term impact of NZ Marine apprenticeships on marine culture and their international application.

Worldwide New Zealand is highly recognised as a nation of composite technicians and builders of high quality boats including sailing and motor super yachts, sports cruisers, race yachts, and trailer boats as well as a supplier of marine related products and services. In 2014 the New Zealand marine and composites industry was the country’s largest non-primary manufacturing based industry employing over 10,000 people in approximately 1,000 companies. The annual turnover of the NZMI was in excess of $2 billion. In addition, highly talented Kiwi sailors have made the Americas Cup and Round-the-World racing yachts household names. One of the keys to this success has been embedding on the job apprenticeship training programmes within the industry to drive it forward.

A clear statement as to the adaptability of the apprenticeship programme and course materials to any international environment, culture and production schedule, the Nova Scotia Boatbuilders Association has been using NZ Marine licensed material for the last 10 years with unprecedented success.

The outstanding reputation of boat builders from New Zealand and a long history with the delivery of successful apprenticeship programmes domestically and overseas made NZ Marine the natural choice from whom to license curriculum and training materials. Within a year of the IBEX conference Wroe had signed a licensing agreement with NZ Marine.

“With 15 years’ experience in developing a world leading “in-house” marine and composites apprenticeship training model, it was only natural that internationally likeminded and progressive organisations like Metalcraft Marine would be interested in our International Partnership Program (IPP)” says van der Hor. “Being able to co-develop their own bespoke workforce development needs for their business provides a shared learning environment that has ongoing benefits to all parties.”

The manifold benefits of engaging in the NZ Marine apprenticeship programme have spanned economic, recruitment and succession considerations all stemming from the primary focus of developing fully rounded artisanal builders with a broad understanding of the end-to end build process from design to delivery. Able to drive innovation, solve problems, take a leadership role and work independently they speak a common language drawn from and developed through study. Of which 80% occurs “on the job” with mentors and peers driving relationships and forging a greater interconnectedness with staff on all levels.

The depth and complexity of the original Aluminium boat building course material was maintained whilst embedding material specifically relevant to Aluminium boat building in North America. The resources integrated with ABYC Standards and Canadian and US Health and Safety Standards which resulted in a tailored robust training solution.

A Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) process was undertaken to identify small gaps in the knowledge or skillset of experienced senior staff. These were mapped by an NZ Marine Field Officer and training was implemented resulting in the fast tracking of mentors and fostering of a new apprenticeship culture from the top down.     

Basing the qualification around the learner and their needs, the programme does not have a time requirement and instead allows the apprentice to move through the material at their own pace.  Most of the units do not have to be completed in any particular order. Instead they are prescribed to each apprentice based on the work they are currently undertaking.

With this heavily practical basis, the course work recognises that craftsmen learn and work better with tools in their hands. Each exercise is formulated to speak to this style of learning.

Key support comes in the form of NZ Marine’s management support and the use of an online training platform, RudderLive, which in-house trainers use to track progress and provides access to key materials.

In an industry that can experience rapid growth, apprenticeships gear a workforce towards being able to navigate scaling up with ease whilst ensuring plans for seamless succession are in place. Impacting staff retention as well as recruitment, MetalCraft Marine has noted an increase in applicants that would directly refer to the apprenticeship programme as a key reason for their application. 

A wealth of funding opportunities exists internationally and can be accessed to minimize financial risk. In the United States the White House has requested a two billion dollar fund to double the number of apprenticeships available over the next five years. Often economic development funds are available to apprenticeship schemes in rural areas. Risk was further mitigated through a selection process at MetalCraft Marine which required employees to have worked for the company for 6 months and to undertake a rigorous application and interview process. 

Equally as attractive to an employee, apprenticeships offer formal qualifications, a career path and a pay increase. Notably an incentive scheme was devised to reward every 10 credits passed with a 10 cent raise (each credit representing approximately 10 hours of study or training time). The result was an increase in productivity reflecting directly on an employee’s salary that was still easy to budget for and manage financially for MetalCraft Marine. Despite high selection requirements about 1/3 of the work force was enrolled in the apprenticeship programme within 2 years of offering it. Employees clearly see the value of enrollment.

"The NZ Marine apprenticeship program sets the bar very high and graduates of this program are among the most highly trained boat builders in the world” says Joe Calnan, MetalCraft Marine’s programme facilitator. “The comprehensive curriculum ensures that graduates are competent to handle any boat building challenge, individually or as a team. Establishing the NZ Marine boat building apprenticeship here has increased quality and efficiency, helped to win new sales contracts and attracted new talent to the industry. These dividends more than recoup the cost of running the training program."

For interview requests or further media information please contact Annaleis Shearer of Albatross PR, [email protected], +64 21 770 110 

For further information about the International Partnership Program (IPP) please contact Chris van der Hor – General Manager, NZ Marine & Composites Industry Training Organisation [email protected], +64 21 757 955

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 03 November 2015 )