In Lake Huron’s Les Cheneaux Islands, a school is preserving the craft of building wooden boats.
Opened in 2005, the Great Lakes Boat Building School is located in Cedarville, Michigan, a small town tucked in the scenic bays and natural harbors of the area. A few dozen students a year learn how to build wooden boats.
A $2.7 million federal grant will allow the school to expand enrollment, which in turn will provide more workers for the marine industry, Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters announced on Tuesday. The school will be receiving funding from the Economic Development Administration as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Recovery Assistance Grant program.
“Michigan has a rich maritime history,” Stabenow said in a press release. “This funding will boost economic development in the Upper Peninsula and allow the Great Lakes Boat Building School to continue their important work of preparing the next generation of marine industry professionals.”
The school has two programs, and each year-long program enrolls between 12 and 24 students. Most are between the ages of 18 and 45 from the Midwest. The school has a 100% placement rate for student employment after graduation.
“It’s a very thriving industry, and an industry that is just desperate for employees,” Nikki Storey, president of Great Lakes Boat Building School, said in an interview with Great Lakes Now.
Watch Great Lakes Now’s segment on the Great Lakes Boat Building School here:
The funds from the grant will go toward an expansion of the school, new infrastructure and more training equipment. The grant is expected to more than double the annual graduation to 50 students.
“We want to thank Senators Stabenow and Peters for their support and advocacy of our school and this expansion project,” Storey said in a press release. “This is a significant step in addressing the distressing workforce shortage in the Great Lakes Marine Industry and beyond.”
The water transportation industry – which includes Great Lakes shipping – faced a major drop in employment from just over 67,000 workers in January 2020 to below 56,000 in January 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The industry has so far been unable to return to the employment levels it once saw prior to the pandemic, with just a slight increase to 57,000 in January 2022.
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Featured image: A wooden boat at the Great Lakes Boat Building School in Cedarville, Michigan. Great Lakes Now photo.