If you’ve ever been on a Hellgate Jetboat tour or gone skipping down the Rogue River in a fishing boat, you know that there’s something special about being on the water. But you might not know that there’s a boat shortage! According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the boat buying industry skyrocketed in 2020 by a solid nine percent. By the end of the year, manufacturers were struggling to expand production and find employees to keep up with the demand. Though fear not—in the fall of 2021, Southern Oregon’s very own Rogue Community College (RCC) introduced a new certificate, becoming the only college in the country to offer an aluminum boat building program.
The boat building industry, like many industries, is constantly in need of fabricators, welders, and riggers, trade skills which have become almost rare. RCC’s certificate has launched at the Table Rock campus in White City with eight students—who each have opportunities to learn about boats, welding, and fabrication—and then head out into internships, putting their skills to use. Local boat makers like Pavati, Boulton Boats, and Katanacraft are all involved in the certificate as well. The course features weeks where representatives from each company provide real world experience and lecture material; Pavati even donated aluminum for the students’ training! In three terms, anyone could be a boat builder—which is exciting for welding department chair, Todd Giesbrecht. “This is feasible. We could send eight to fourteen boat builders into the workforce each year.” And like with other welding projects, aluminum boat building is creative—and fun.
Giesbrecht continued to share that students in this program will work on watercraft as a team. By the end of the three terms, each cohort will have come far enough on their practice boat to actually test its seaworthiness. (Note: students will not be in the boat during the test—for liability reasons).
The boat building program has been years in the making; Covid postponed the opportunity for a while because so much of the learning involves in-person projects. Yet this schoolyear, the hours spent dreaming have become a reality. Plus, with such a new program, the future has an ocean’s worth of possibilities. “We could expand the course to get really technical. Use different designs. Maybe the Coast Guard could even present,” theorized Giesbrecht. At the very least though, students have plenty of opportunities to get connected with employers and peers in the tight-knit community of boat builders.
If a student already loves boating and creative projects, then ‘schoolwork’ in this course is smooth sailing. Students in each class earn six credits (which count toward a full degree), and in-state tuition at RCC is $112 per credit. So, if you or a friend has ever wanted to be a boat builder, RCC’s new certificate means you’re in luck. Plus, it’s an excuse to spend more time on the water.
For research purposes, of course.
(Strategy 3.4.– Support expanded technical education and higher education programming, especially for in-demand fields, such as healthcare, high tech, and engineering.)
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