To say it has been a brutal year in the U.S. marine industry is akin to stating there was some damage when the catastrophic tsunami struck northern Sumatra in December, 2004. No one was really prepared for the fierce, deadly blow that has virtually devastated the marine job market on all fronts, nor the sustained nature of the impact that has left thousands reeling in its wake. The daily onslaught of headlines announcing more manufacturing plants and dealership closures along with a battered trail of support and feeder businesses, translates into countless job losses and lifetime industry careers that have been dashed.
According to NMMA President Thom Dammrich, those companies serving the existing boater may be growing, while the new boat manufacturing and sales sector, along with their suppliers, is feeling the wicked brunt of the recession.
“Based on conversations with many manufacturers, we estimated earlier in the year that unemployment in the boat manufacturing sector reached 70%,” he said. “Manufacturers are producing again, albeit small numbers. Boat manufacturing unemployment has eased a little, but it still exceeds 50% based on anecdotal information.”
When asked about future industry sales projections over the next six months to a year, Dammrich was cautiously optimistic.
“The height of the 2009 selling season is behind us, so the next six months are likely to be pretty slow,” he said. “I do see the economy turning around slowly in the next six months and new boat sales starting to pick up again slowly as early as the winter boat show season, and certainly by next spring.”
Dammrich clearly acknowledges the challenges the recession has thrust on the industry workforce at all levels, and offers advice for those affected.
“I believe people should always be doing things to prepare themselves for their next job, whether that next job is with a current employer or a new employer,” he says. “Even as new boat sales rebound, hiring is likely to be very slow. I never encourage anyone to wait around and hope. Hope is not a strategy. People should constantly be enhancing their value and if you are out of work, your full time job should be finding new work.”
Besides standing in unemployment lines and searching desperately for new work, what strategies should displaced and downsized career veterans adopt?
To address this relevant and timely issue, Waypoints interviewed two top human resource veterans, one a top management recruiter who specializes in the marine industry, and another senior-level executive who has worked for many blue chip companies and now runs his own highly successful HR firm servicing a number of major corporations.
Neal Harrell is a 14-year veteran of the search and recruiting industry who previously opened a top performing management recruiting firm that focused on automotive and capital equipment manufacturing, pharmaceutical, publishing, IT, biotech and venture capital.
In 2002, he created a recruiting niche specifically tailored to the recreational marine sector with offices in Ft. Lauderdale, Newport and Wilmington, and has handled recruiting efforts for mid-level managers and executive-level staff positions for OEM boat builders, shipyards, service and refit facilities, marinas, boat dealerships and marine industry suppliers. He also conducts searches for individuals in a variety of marine disciplines. His firm created an extensive database of more than 4000 marine industry professionals, as well as developing and maintaining a popular online job board, www.careerboat.com.
His retained and search clients reads like a Who’s Who: Bertram, Carver, Chris-Craft, Correct-Craft, EdgeWater, Delta, Fairline, Ferretti Group, Fraser Yachts, Grady-White, Grand Banks, The Hinckley Company, Cummins, MerCruiser, Moeller Marine, The Landing School, Lazzara, Newport Shipyard, RibCraft USA, Rybovich, Westport Shipyard, Cobalt, Silverton, Viking Yachts, Mako, Southport Marina, Riviera Yachts, Palmer Johnson, Charleston City Marina and Sol Yacht Transport.
“Being a management recruiter, I’ve had a firsthand perspective on job losses across our industry,” he said. “I first began to see signs of contraction in late 2006, mainly at dealerships and at a few high-volume OEM boatbuilders. In 2007, there were obvious signs of a slow down, with OEM’s reducing production volumes and not looking to introduce new models at the pace we saw in 2003, ’04 and ’05. That slowdown trickled up-stream to tier I and II suppliers, while at the same time, moving from small boats (12’-30’) to larger motoryachts. Although, by 2006, we still hadn’t seen the job losses we’re seeing today, there was an obvious and significant slowdown in hiring.”
Our non-industry expert, Matt Durfee, launched Orlando, FL-based Navigator Executive Advisors and the Navigator Institute to help people develop their interviewing, networking, negotiation and other critical skills. Durfee enlisted the services of a team of former Disney studio executives to help create the Navigator Institute, a highly interactive online job search skills service.
Durfee previously held senior HR positions in numerous high profile organizations including Pepsi Cola, Nestle, Frito-Lay International, Hard Rock Cafe, Bank One, Cendant, Darden Restaurants and Centex Homes and on various boards of directors. His international experience includes a two-session stint for the U.S. Council for International Business to represent national employer interests at the European United Nations/I.L.O. in Geneva, Switzerland.
Durfee, who earned his Master’s degree in Labor and Industrial Relations from Michigan State University and subsequently completed an executive program in Financial Analysis at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, is in the final stages of publishing a new book due for release in the fourth quarter of 2009 entitled, Job Search Skills from the Reluctant Expert.
Writes Durfee in the opening excerpt, “I never intended to be an expert in the job search process but here I am. Someone who has secured job offers from some of the world’s most admired companies…
“However, like many people who have acquired specialist skills in one field or another, I have found the process of learning isn’t always easy or enjoyable. In fact, it can be downright maddening and, at times, terribly discouraging. For instance, much of what I know is the result of countless blown interviews and from the nine times my bosses have told me my job was going away.”
THE WAYPOINTS Q & A
Waypoints Editor Wanda Kenton Smith posed a handful of critical questions to our experts, with the goal to provide resulting hands-on strategies that can be applied by those caught in the emotional turmoil of the job loss maelstrom.
WAYPOINTS: For displaced employees, or those who expect to be caught in downsizing/right sizing/layoffs, what are the top three - five strategies you recommend for implementation?
HARRELL: First, if you haven’t been displaced yet, make it clear to your current employer that you’re willing to be cross-trained in other areas of your company.
Second, take 15 minutes, every day, to scout the Internet and marine industry publications for job listings.
Third, if you are displaced, use this time for continuing education. This doesn’t necessarily mean attending a trade school, community college, etc. Instead, become a ‘student of the industry.’ Read, read and read more! Participate in on-line forums. Network yourself on professional networking sites (e.g. LinkedIn), attend local/regional boat shows and trade events.
And, finally, think about how our industry will be different when things do take a turn for the better and prepare yourself to be of value in this ‘new’ industry.
DURFEE: Believe in what I call the “New Reality.” Guard against the complacency that often accompanies a seemingly steady and secure job. Keeping your job search skills sharp is especially difficult if you have the good fortunate of working for a generous and caring boss in a generous and caring organization. Even in the best-case situation, you should always nurture and grow your network.
In light of the startling economic and industrial transformations already taking place in the new millennium, no one should be foolish enough to think the status quo is incapable of being disrupted. From General Motors and Lehman Brothers to AIG and Circuit City, not even the most iconic organizations are immune from the absolute carnage manifested in the forms of mergers, hostile acquisitions, global competition and shifting consumer preferences. Those who tenaciously clutch their lunch boxes or company-issued Blackberries and incessantly rationalize why their jobs are perpetually safe will be the least prepared to launch an effective job search should they someday be proven wrong.
Second, project confidence and enthusiasm! Whether it’s talking to friends, family or whomever you choose to network with, everyone will benefit if you demonstrate confidence in your ability to land on your feet. Conversely, some people may be reluctant to help you network if they feel you are so angry or “down and out” that you would embarrass them with their friends or professional colleagues. In fact, your attitude is so important that if you’re having difficulty emotionally coping with your current predicament (e.g., an unexpected or unfair job loss), you may want to take some time before you begin reaching out so you can, at a minimum, put on a believable “game face.”
Third, learn how to get a new job! Amazingly, people will often spend more time and money on a round of golf than they will on something as important as learning how to find and land a great job. For people who haven’t had to actively look for a job in a few years, they are at a particular disadvantage as there are a lot of new resources and approaches to use.
While it may sound harsh, a U.S. military motto that I routinely share with clients when helping them to develop their job search and interviewing skills is, “We don’t want a fair fight.” What I mean by that is I urge them to leverage our firm’s superior training to help them beat out all other candidates for the job they want.
Fourth, continuously develop your professional skills. To avoid professional obsolescence it’s vital that you continuously learn new skills and obtain relevant and substantive certifications. Even if not required in your current job, your expanded capabilities can make you more marketable should you suddenly find yourself back on the job market.
Finally, never stop networking – ever! Too often, people will not even consider other opportunities because they are content with their current job and employer. Unfortunately, when they do lose their jobs they scramble to develop a network and their lack of readiness contributes to blown opportunities. By always being willing to consider or at least hear about other jobs, you sharpen your interviewing skills and keep your network intact.
Similarly, people often make the mistake of building and maintaining a network only when it suits their immediate needs. A lack of interest in helping others, or failing to sustain and grow a healthy networking pipeline when there is no apparent self-serving reason to do so, is short-sighted and often breeds lasting resentment that stymies future requests for assistance. Simply stated, no one likes to feel that they are being used; effective networking – when earnestly nurtured over the long term – can prevent that from happening. Besides, just because you may have landed a new job today doesn’t mean it won’t go away tomorrow.
WAYPOINTS: The marine industry has been hit hard by the economy, with a staggering 70% unemployment. As a result, jobs in the industry are difficult and fewer to find. How can you take your existing skill set and market/present yourself to a new market?
HARRELL: Think about other industries that offer synergies. For example, if lamination is your specialty, can you apply your trade to an industry that’s experiencing growth, like wind energy/windmill blades? If you were a retail dealer, perhaps take a job in the auto industry to hold you over….you’ll learn new techniques that you might be able to apply to boat sales when we start to see an uptick. If you were in customer service at an OEM boat builder, maybe you can apply those same skills to a boatyard environment.
DURFEE: I know this all too well as my dad was an independent manufacturer’s representative for boat companies that were either too small or simply had no interest in managing an inside sales force. As a kid, I found out selling boats is a very difficult proposition … whenever the economy took a turn for the worse, we would inevitably have to adjust our household budget and cut back on spending.
One option for dealing with difficult times is to assess how your skills can be transferred to other industries. For instance, sales skills are very transferable and good sales people are sought in virtually any industry. The same goes for people with skills in accounting, IT, human resources and other professions. When switching industries, your resume should highlight your technical and professional skills versus your industry experience. For instance, you may want to lead with your position (e.g., Operations Manager) and downplay your previous employer(s).
Overall, it’s safe to say the overall labor pool will be expected to have a higher collective level of education and technical skills. The days of an unskilled workforce earning a good living and securing a place in the middle-class with little else than a strong back and a good work ethic are quickly passing. Workers at all levels of the organization will increasingly be required to use advanced technology and operate sophisticated equipment. Just like manufacturing plants have had to invest and retool to be competitive, so too will human capital.
WAYPOINTS: How do you recommend those in the job search process stay motivated, when it is so challenging to find meaningful work?
HARRELL: Job searching is never easy, even in good times. The key is to be diligent and pro-active. Don’t count on (the) human resources (department). Instead, market yourself to decision makers at the companies for whom you’d like to work.
For example, if you’re an electrical engineer, find the name of the engineering manager or VP at your target company and e-mail a resume directly to him/her. Remember, HR can rarely tell you, “Yes, we’d like to hire you,” but can always tell you, “No, we don’t have any openings.”
DURFEE: In order to stay motivated, you first have to combat stress. Of all the things one can do to fight stress, I have found exercise to be the most effective. It not only improves your physical well-being, but it can greatly contribute to your psychological health as well. Medical studies have proven that exercising releases compounds such as endorphins, serotonin and dopamine which can serve to help you battle depression and keep you motivated. Plus, people just tend to feel better when they are in good physical shape.
Another way to stay motivated is to use some of your down time to remove the personal “clutter” that may be a source of stress. When I was a corporate executive, for example, I tended to travel frequently and worked long hours. When I got home, it was usually dark and I didn’t have the energy to do much around the house. But every time my garage door opened after a long day of work, I would sigh and say, “I have to find the time to clean this thing; it’s driving me nuts.”
So one of the first things I would do when I was unemployed was to give it a good cleaning. While the physical part of it provided me with some exercise, I also felt a nice sense of accomplishment when I was finished. More importantly, it really gave me an opportunity to think about what I wanted to do with my future. For me, the idea of becoming an entrepreneur was conceived while I was in the midst of that dirty and sweaty chore and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Too often, I have come to realize, people who have just lost their jobs don’t devote sufficient time to thoughtfully considering what they really want to do with their lives. Instead, they tend to immediately focus all of their energy and efforts on finding jobs similar to the ones they just left.
Other ways to keep motivated is to enhance your skills by learning a new computer software system, getting certified in a technical skill or learning a new language. Not only would learning a new skill enable you to productively channel your energy but it may also enhance your value to a prospective employer and help you land a job. Depending on your interests, the cost to learn a new skill can vary from a few dollars for a book or online learning program to several thousand dollars for comprehensive classroom or hands-on instruction. Your local Small Business Administration or government employment office should also be able to provide you with information on free or subsidized training programs.
WAYPOINTS: How do you get past the gatekeeper and identify the right person with whom you need to speak?
HARRELL: Getting around gatekeepers and HR is actually pretty easy. One way is to scour the company’s website looking for names. You can also Google the company name and find articles/press releases. Often, leaders from companies will be quoted in such releases.
DURFEE: This is when effective networking comes into play as the odds of being considered for a position are greatly enhanced if you have someone inside the organization willing to help open doors and get you around the standard hiring process. Even if the source does not know you well (or even not at all), he or she may be willing to forward your resume on to the hiring manager at the request of a mutual friend or acquaintance. Conversely, sending a resume without any internal sponsorship usually means it will get reviewed with minimal attention – if at all.
To begin with, create a list of all your former co-workers, bosses, subordinates and vendors you have worked with. Secondly, create a list of all your friends, acquaintances and social contacts. Once done, you can start direct networking by reaching out to people who you know and who know you. When in contact with these individuals for job leads, also ask them if they would introduce you to people they think can help with your job search. If they are hesitant or lax at making a timely introduction, ask instead for permission to at least “drop” their name as you reach out to their contacts directly.
In short, if you don’t know someone inside the organization you are targeting for employment opportunities, find someone who does and solicit their assistance to get you a personal introduction to the key decision maker(s). The website LinkedIn may be of help as it allows you to network online with over 40 million members. Social websites such as Twitter, Facebook and MySpace are also great networking venues.
WAYPOINTS: What types of resources are available to those who have lost jobs, to help them with career assistance?
HARRELL: E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Career Assist’ in the subject line and a career counselor will contact you to discuss one-on-one career coaching options.
DURFEE: Of course, I have a vested reason in recommending the Navigator Institute as we are all former human resources executives, professionals or recruiting specialists. As a result, we know firsthand why some job candidates get hired and why others don’t. We share our expertise as it is “real world” vs. what you may hear from other so-called experts who may not have ever hired anyone in their lives.
Otherwise, most city, county and state governments offer services to help you find jobs and develop some essential skills such as resume writing and interviewing. The quality and service levels vary greatly across agencies and locations so if you aren’t satisfied with the state government’s services, for instance, you may want to look into programs offered by the county government.
WAYPOINTS: On the employer side, the marine business has many small business owners. For those who are forced to reduce/lay off, what advice/strategies do you recommend?
HARRELL: Get rid of your marginal performers and cross train your talented ones so they can take on other duties until the time comes to start re-hiring. Plant maintenance —housekeeping is a good example. If you’re going to be forced to downsize some of your best laminators, why not offer them the chance to take on some plant maintenance responsibilities? Or replace your marginal A/P coordinator with your best senior buyer that you don’t want to lose….i.e. shuffle people around the organization.
DURFEE: Take care of the folks by avoiding short-sighted financial decisions. If you provide displaced employees with respectable severance payments and outplacement services not only should you sleep better at night but it will reduce the anxiety of the “surviving” employees. If you can’t afford generous severance payments, at least try to provide them with outplacement. Outplacement is designed to provide them with the job search skills necessary to get them back to work faster so that a bigger severance may not be needed (it’s like the old saying about “teaching a man to fish”). The Navigator Institute has developed a highly affordable corporate outplacement service with fees starting under $400 (which is about 75% less than what the old outplacement firms charge).
Also try to plan a day of lay-offs versus letting people go intermittently. Once the lay-off activities have been completed, immediately communicate in-person with the surviving employees and tell them what happened and why it was necessary. Be sure to tell them your vision for the organization and give them the chance to openly ask questions as that will reduce stress and minimize the impact on productivity. Be sure to take this opportunity to share how you have taken care of their former co-workers through the severances and outplacement services.
Lastly, do not disappear! Stay accessible and visible for at least the next several days and preferably longer.
WAYPOINTS: Any other thoughts or recommendations?
HARRELL: Although hiring is probably the last thing on an employer’s mind, this is actually a great time to ‘up-talent’. Remember, your people are your #1 asset, regardless of the times.
DURFEE: Yes – get used to it. Sad but true, the days of lifetime employment and secure jobs are pretty much over and they won’t be coming back. For those who make a conscious effort to learn from life’s many lessons (their own and others), they will devote the time and effort necessary to develop and maintain strong career transition skills. Their preparation and motivation will make them effective job finders and attractive job candidates. As a result, they will maneuver their career path mazes with greater success and less stress.
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Wanda Kenton Smith is editor of Waypoints, president of Marine Marketers of America, national marketing columnist for Soundings Trade Only since 1997, and owner/president of Kenton Smith Marketing, www.kentonsmithmarketing.com For more information or to comment on this story, e-mail email@example.com