PROJECTProfile: Spaulding Marine Center

Man repairing ship

Recreational boating is big business in the San Francisco Bay area, and the boatyards that maintain all those boats can’t find enough skilled workers. Boatworks 101, a youth apprenticeship program, was created to train the next generation of marine maintenance technicians to meet this need. Spaulding Marine Center sponsors the program. Spaulding’s president, Bill Edinger, conceived the program in response to the regional industry’s skill shortage. He sees the 6 apprentices in the 2021 cohort as a start and plans to increase to 12 apprentices next year, scaling up from there. Bill believes all would be hired upon completing the program. 

As boat options grow beyond rowboats and dinghies, their maintenance grows progressively more complex. Sailboats and wooden boats, especially antiques, pose even more complex maintenance challenges. Technicians must, therefore, be able to work with many different systems and materials: electrical wiring, marine instruments, painting, welding and fabrication, fiberglass and other composites, gasoline and diesel engines, marine plumbing, sailboat rigging, and the list goes on. One attraction of the occupation is that technicians can specialize in one or more of these aspects and earn higher income.

Boatworks apprentices begin with nine months of instruction and work experience at the Spaulding Marine Center, where they complete a curriculum produced by the American Boat and Yacht Council, leading to industry certification. The program is registered with both the US Department of Labor and the California Division of Apprenticeship Standards. After the Spaulding boatyard was passed to the founder’s heirs, it became a nonprofit organization and added a marine museum and training center to its continuing work servicing boats. Half a dozen additional boatyard owners quickly joined as partners who participated in the planning, hosted apprentice visits, and will share responsibility for providing further on-the-job training over an additional six-month training period, as apprentices move to a new worksite every month to gain more diverse experiences. This also gives employers and apprentices a chance to get to know one another before making or accepting a job offer. Spaulding will remain the employer of record, and the partners will pay for the apprentices’ compensation.

Boating is an expensive recreational sport, all but unknown in diverse communities with low incomes. Boatworks recruits widely to assure its apprentices represent the region’s population, not only the daughters and sons of boat owners, opening the way to an occupation where general workers in the region earn a median income of nearly $53,000 and specialists can earn much more. In addition to working on boats in the yard, the apprentices have a chance to take excursions on the water and jointly build a small wooden boat.

The goal is for apprentices to acquire a diverse skill set qualifying them for initial employment and setting the stage for further specialization. According to Jay Grant, the lead instructor, the most important skills they learn are how to solve problems and ask for advice. Apprentice Sidney Wewerka said she appreciates the opportunity to engage in individual projects and go farther into her specialty of choice.