Grooming quality labor, top priority for Dutch sector

AMSTERDAM _ It was easy to miss that 87-year-old Miloke at the mid-May opening of Feadship’s 4th build hall here. That cute motor cruiser may only be 7.5m (23 ft.) long, it is a powerful factor in Feadship’s drive to stay a global superyacht leader.

A handful of interns at De Vries Shipbuilding, a constituent member of the Feadship alliance, gave the craft a refit in the past year. They attended a yard training school, founded in 2011, where they spend 6 hours a week honing practical skills under the wings of nationally accredited tutors.

Securing a quality workforce is a task Feadship – and many other builders in the Netherlands – ignore at their peril.

Underscoring the urgency of that undertaking, De Vries Shipbuilding and others are stepping up the grooming of talent through the Yacht Builders Academy, launched in 2018.

The academy, a €2.3 million investment, is to have an enrolment of 370 by 2021 – double the number of sector-wide trainees now. It is the most ambitious practical training scheme to date in Dutch yacht building, uniting 40 companies and trade groups in a push for more detailed, hands-on training.

Course work covers repairs, construction, refits, project management, engineering, interior woodworking, electrical work, electronics, boat painting, etc. The academy’s partners are the cream of Dutch yacht building and include Feadship, Heesen Yachts, AkzoNobel, Younique Yachts and Netherlands Maritime Technology..

Sijbrand de Vries, the yard’s CEO, says there is no point in complaining that “basic education these days is too general, too mass production to meet market needs. That just means you need to take action yourself.”

Japke van Groning, head of training at Feadship, oversees “training of students in all yacht building disciplines: painting, metal working, mechanical engineering, carpentry and so on. We take in school-age students, but we also individuals who want to switch jobs. They can be history teachers, fishermen or farmers.”

After their internship, there is no obligation for interns to take a job at Feadship but most do. In 2015, De Vries Scheepsbouw was rated the Netherlands’ best learning-company. And in 2018, its head of carpentry courses, was named ‘Best Practical Trainer.’

The Miloke refit kept half a dozen interns busy.

They gave the boat an electric engine, new stainless-steel parts, a new rudder and a new teak deck. The refit was an educational experience for De Vries Shipbuilding, too. The yard says putting interns on a compact project like restoring a 1932 motor cruiser proved more inspiring for interns than working on a massive superyacht.