When JRL Ventures/Marine Concepts began partnering with workforce development agencies in Florida approximately 10 years ago, the state wanted to fund training for college, trade school and high school programs. So, for example, it would support a lamination course at a vocational school. The idea seemed sound, but there was a practical problem.

“As businesses, we can’t supply the schools with a flow of candidates on a regular basis,” says Matt Chambers, president of JRL Ventures/Marine Concepts and a member of ACMA’s Board of Directors. “The economy fluctuates, and we need a lot of employees. It fluctuates again, and we need less people. So the program didn’t go well.”

There was another issue with the instruction model: It utilized a uniform approach ill-fitted to composites training. “It’s not like a welding course. Anybody can go to a trade school, learn how to weld, then go to a company and weld,” says Chambers. “When you’re dealing with composites, it’s much different. I may do a 6-ounce skin coat and infusion and light RTM, but another company does 12-ounce skin coats using a resin with different characteristics. Each of us have our trade secrets, and you can’t send somebody to school to learn them.”

So Chambers and his peers in the boatbuilding market convinced Florida’s workforce development community to flip the training model on its head. They asked that funding focus on in-house training at the manufacturing companies. “We offered to develop our own programs and train employees, using our suppliers and our expertise,” says Chambers. The state agreed.

Four years ago, JRL Ventures/Marine Concepts began receiving state grants for in-house training through CareerSource Florida, a network of career development professionals that work with employers to find talent. New employees are vetted by CareerSource Suncoast and CareerSource Southwest – the two non-profit organizations the company works with – to ensure they meet requirements of the state and local government. Then the employees participate in training at the manufacturing company on a range of topics, including safety, composite skills and self-responsibility. “It covers everything you need to be an employee in our facility, not a generic employee,” says Chambers.

JRL Ventures/Marine Concepts receives $2,000 per employee for training. The grants cover all of the company’s training costs and about 20 percent of the total cost of hiring a new employee. “It makes it feasible – and financially motivating – to train employees,” says Chambers.