'Boat School' Trains Students in Use of Composites

Wednesday, January 24, 2001
By Bret Blanchard

Washington County Technical College

There's been a lot of disposable income produced in the country during the past few years. This is one of the reasons the boatbuilding industry is enjoying a strong market. A majority of the industry is utilizing composite technology to construct high-quality boats. This has caused a real labor shortage of quality hires. Quality products require quality employees. The days of hiring off the corner are long gone, so how can an employer insure a good hire? Nothing's perfect, but there is a way to increase the chances of a good hire - certification.

The Composites Fabricators Association (CFA) provides a national certification called Certified Composites Technician or CCT. This is not a case of "anyone in the industry can pass the test." There is a need for a broad base of knowledge, beyond what we regularly see in the general boatbuilding industry. There is also the requirement of one year's documented industry experience. Holders of this certification will have demonstrated knowledge of the industry to include safety, proper construction techniques and even a bit of chemistry. A well-written and helpful study guide is available to prepare for the certification exam; an eighty percent pass rate is required for certification.

A couple of questions come to mind. If I'm an employer, where do if find these employees? If I'm looking to be an employee, how do I get certified? One answer is training. The "Boat School" at Washington County Technical College's Marine Technology Center in Eastport, Maine has successfully integrated the Certified Composite Technician (CCT) training into its existing boatbuilding curriculum. The Boat School, located in Eastport Maine, has been training students to enter the marine industry for 30 years as part of your taxpayer supported Technical College System. Over these 30 years the school has evolved to meet the changing needs of the industry. "We try to keep on top of the new technologies and integrate them into the curriculum " states Tom Duym the Division Head of the Marine Technology Center. " In keeping with this goal, the CCT certification was integrated into the course BOA 210, Composite Technology. It just fit the course objectives and gave the course the structure it needed and really helped to nail down the curricula." The president of the College, Bill Flahive is also a strong believer in certifications: " Any time we can provide training toward an industry certification it increases employability of the graduate and validates the learning process."

Being able to offer the CCT training in the formal curriculum was a challenge. Washington County Technical College (WCTC) had to utilize the broad based Study Guide in a specific marine based course. The Study guide is a required textbook and is purchased from CFA. CFA also oversees the certification exam. The course expands upon the certification and has a lab/shop component, which includes plug-to- mold-to-part, individual projects. This course is just one of many courses in the curriculum which are composites based. Others include; Marine Joinery, which employs vacuum bagging and cored construction techniques to build light weight furniture, and Composite Construction which includes cold-molding and the construction of a catboat employing hand lay-up and cored-vacuum bagged techniques. The curriculum is set up to enable the student to focus on composites in the first year and receive a Certificate in Composite Technology. If another year is invested at WCTC you will be eligible for a Diploma in Boatbuilding Technology or Associate of Applied Science in Marine Technology depending on the academic load.

What about the employee in the industry not able to leave the job to train? The next step in the development of ways to meet the needs of industry is web-based instruction. WCTC is currently working with CFA to deliver the Composite Technology course "on-line". The expectation is that the course will be up and running this summer. This will be a "hybrid" web-based course. In other words the course does not rely totally upon the web but includes live components - the best of both worlds. If you can access the web and are in Maine you can take full advantage of this offering at a pace that fits your schedule. Those outside of Maine would not be able to take advantage of the live component without travel to Maine. The only prerequisite for this course, for full certification, is one years experience in the industry. "Student" certification is available if you do not qualify for the experience requirement. The student certification turns into full certification when the years experience is gained. This is a disciplined way to not only prep and sit for national certification but you will also, upon successful completion of the course, receive three college credits from Washington County Technical College.

The college has also tried to reach out on another front. In conjunction with the Maine Marine Trades Association a course was offered in Fiberglass Technology and Repair. This course was intended for limited experienced employees but attracted a wide range of expertise. Transportation was included in the package as well as lodging and meals at a very reasonable rate. Topics covered included resin types, fabrics and their uses, vacuum bagging, and the repair of solid and cored hulls. Each day culminated with a casual dinner/discussion. A lot of the discussion focused on secondary bonding and gel coat repair, a lot of new information was shared in one weekend. If you're an employer and you call The Boat School you may get a rather discouraging response, "all our students have job offers at this time." This is where you, as an employer, need to take action. The only way the school is going to provide more employees is to take in and train more people. When you turn down an applicant because of no experience, send them to check out the school, we can train them. Help us recruit by joining us when visiting secondary schools. And when someone expresses an interest in marine related studies, mention the Boat School. We've been around for 30 years, but we don't have a glitzy ad campaign or travel in all the right circles and sometimes we are forgotten.

Bret Blanchard has been an instructor at The Boat School at Washington County Technical College since 1984. The school is located in Eastport in a waterfront facility. It was established as a support for the Maine Marine Trades and continues to fulfill that mission through instruction in Wooden Boatbuilding, Drafting/Lofting, Design, Composite Construction, and a comprehensive curriculum in Marine Mechanics. The school is now establishing a new curriculum in Aquaculture and accepting applications for this growing industry in Maine. For further information, contact the school by phone at 1-800-806-0433 or 1-207-853-2518, by e-mail at sbishop@wctc.org or visit the Web site at www.wctc.org. For information on CFA, go to its Web site at www.cfa-hq.org

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