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Allen 2017 August 728x90

Britain's boatbuilders hiring but face significant skills gap

by Annabel Wildey on 20 Sep 2016 20 September 2016

Industry leaders call for sector to be core part of the Government's Industrial Strategy

Recruitment across Britain's marine industry increased by 2.7% in 2014/15 and is expected to increase a further 2% in 2015/16.

The majority of work force growth has come from the boat manufacturing (20%), equipment supply chain (20%), and boat distribution and retail (15%) sectors. The industry's 4,500 businesses now employ 31,600 people.

New statistics released at Southampton Boat Show today, however, show that an inability to recruit skilled workers is holding back growth:

  • 30% of companies have identified critical skills gaps that are holding their business back

  • Technical skills are the biggest obstacle to recruitment: 74% of businesses cited a lack of technical training (such as in manufacturing and engineering) as a barrier. This compares to the UK wide average of 41%.

  • For an industry where one in two jobs are in boat building and repairs and equipment manufacturing (34% and 13% respectively) the need to plug the skills gap is becoming more important for future growth.

  • Soft skills are a concern: 24% of businesses identified a lack of soft skills as a barrier to finding the right candidates. This has led to a big push in soft skills training.

  • Competition from other sectors is also a factor: one in three (32%) of businesses said that competition from other industries affects their ability to recruit. This compares to the national average of 8%.

Commenting, Howard Pridding, Chief Executive of British Marine said:

"The marine industry is dynamic and growing. We offer variety, good pay and opportunities to work at some world leading companies. Businesses want to take on more staff but a lack of relevant skills is a barrier and while many of our members are taking on the challenge themselves, more can be done by Government to back the industry. We welcome the renewed emphasis on an industrial strategy but it is crucial that the marine sector forms a central part of any plan and is given the support it needs."

SMEs and start-ups drive the industry, but need talent to thrive

83% of companies in the sector are either small businesses with turnover between £200,000 and £999,999 (26%) or micro businesses (57%) with turnover up to £199,999. Moreover, the UK marine industry is a haven for start-ups with over 50 new businesses registered in the last year. If these companies are to grow further, they need access to a suitably skilled workforce.

Mathew Hornsby, Co-founder and Sales Director at Williams Jet Tenders, who are exhibiting at the Southampton Boat Show this week, commented: "We are seeing demand for British boats from all over the world, particularly in the USA. We are growing and we want to hire more people to meet this demand, but a lack of specialist manufacturing skills in the market is a future challenge for the industry.

"We've increased our workforce by 15% in the last twelve months with full-time employees and apprentices. However, the pool of talent isn't infinite. We're making a big push to expand the training opportunities we offer and engage with the next generation of our workforce. The marine industry is an important contributor to the economy and part of our country's heritage - we should be supported more by Government."

Mathew goes on to explain: "We've set up our own apprenticeship scheme, taking 14-15 year olds in our local community and running a Saturday morning boatbuilding school. If successful, the youngsters progress on to a full-time apprenticeship position with Williams Jet Tenders."

Filling the gap

Across the industry, businesses are taking on the skills gap by themselves, turning to apprenticeships or training-up people in house, rather than relying on a flow of talent from other markets or their competitors.


  • The marine industry has 470 apprentices across 100 businesses.
  • Princess Yachts, one of Britain's largest yacht manufacturer, employs 91 apprentices.
  • Three quarters of apprenticeships are in manufacturing and engineering (43% boat manufacturing, 21% repairs and servicing, 8% equipment manufacturing).
  • 11% of apprentices are employed by the tourism sector.
Training and development
  • Over half of businesses that employ more than 10 people provide comprehensive training.
  • Technical and regulatory training dominates, accounting for almost 80% of internal training provision.
  • Improving soft skills is a priority: training in soft skills accounts for 37% of internal training and 27% of external training.

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