Wisconsin boaters, dealers struggle with mechanic shortage

Associated Press

June 1, 2017

MILWAUKEE  A severe industry-wide shortage of mechanics has alarmed Wisconsin boat dealers and owners alike as summer returns, and there's no sign that conditions will improve anytime soon.

Some boaters have waited weeks for repairs, partly due to low numbers of service technicians at dealerships where business has rebounded after a lengthy downturn, the a Milwaukee newspaper reported. Many service technicians left the industry during the Great Recession.

"We, as an industry, are in a crisis mode," said John Kukuk, vice chairman of the Wisconsin Marine Association and the owner of Nestegg Marine in Marinette. "We can't find enough employees."

Wisconsin ranks seventh among states in sales of new powerboats, engines, trailers and accessories, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. But the association surveyed hundreds of businesses and found that over 20 percent of the jobs marine dealers budgeted in 2016 weren't fulfilled.

"We have been looking for a technician for over five years," Kukuk said about his own dealership.

But boat dealership owners say there's only one dedicated marine engine program at a Wisconsin technical college.

The three-semester program at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in Ashland graduates about 12 students annually.

"Right now, our job placement is 100%," said Todd Larson, an instructor at the school. "Every student that's graduated has had multiple job offers. They can easily select the area of the state, or the country, where they would like to work."

The program teaches students the marine mechanics basics so they can get an entry-level job upon graduation. The engine manufacturers usually pick up additional training through advanced courses.

"It's certainly a hot topic right now," Larson said. "It seems to me that dealers are all screaming that there are no service techs, but the dealers themselves haven't taken enough initiative to try and solve the problem. . They haven't proactively sought out people to fill positions."