How the f*** are we going to build all these boats?

How the F*** are we going to build all these boats?

A casual Tuesday afternoon with an industry contact (thanks Charles) raised this all important question..

In the last week alone 5 new builds have been announced… An industry media source report 70 new builds currently on order in the Netherlands alone……The UK yards have well over £2bn of orders between them. Big boat business is booming right now and its not looking like it’s going to start slowing any time soon. At present, there are few yachts that can be ordered and delivered this side of 2025

COVID has, as we know, had a huge influence on supply chains. Shortages of materials, drivers to deliver products and increasing costs have all meant that the yards feel the squeeze. But what of the human element? This seems to be getting glossed over somewhat.

This article is not a list of solutions; we’re asking a series of questions that I hope the industry will engage with over the coming weeks and also continue to discuss at the Global Superyacht Forum next week

As an agency and with two of the team now in their 8th year of recruiting to the superyacht world, we’ve never seen a recruitment market so busy. Great news you may say, but it’s actually a bit of a challenge, as the demand for staff right now far outstrips supply.

There’s strong requirement across sales and charter too, but thats a whole other discussion point and one that could well lead to the questions of ‘How the f*** are we going to build all these boats’ become even more difficult to solve

Lets first look at yacht design; You can’t build a superyacht without it first being designed, so this is a fairly critical part of the process right? COVID resulted in a few redundancies and even more designers questioning their career choices. As with a lot of industries, we’ve seen a lot of new studios launch in the past 18 months and we wish them all the utmost luck as a fellow COVID-Startup ourselves. The bigger studios have also now recovered from the low points and find themselves inundated with new work and needing to grow. At the time of writing this article, almost all of the major UK studios are advertising vacancies, plus most of the dutch design and engineering greats and many others. With close to 50 live vacancies, the desire for candidates is there, but where’s the supply?

Gone are the days of 100+ applicants for every role posted. With tightening requirements from the employer and a talent pool thats getting stretched even wider, designers are becoming more of a rarity and demanding a premium salary versus 2019.

So where will go to satisfy the demand for experienced designers? Will we look to automotive, or will the industry revert to type and hope that organic movement between the yacht designers will satisfy their requirements?

And what of the manual labour, the skilled tradespeople? As important in the production of a yacht are all those ladies and gents who physically build them. Welders, laminators, carpenters, electricians, engineers, upholsterers, painters….the list goes on! These individuals are the backbone of yacht building, working sometimes in their hundreds to build the (mostly) beautiful floating palaces that are what we are all working to design, build and sell.

After speaking with 10 major yards in the UK and EU, a rough estimate shows in excess of 2000 skilled trades vacancies currently exist in the yacht building cycle. Thats headcount numbers that internal planners have advised are needed to complete existing order books. If we reached out to the entire industry (full data coming 2022) we would expect that number to double if not more. The market, as we all know, is booming

In years gone by, there’s been a huge Eastern European talent pool for yachting to make use of, but again due to commercial, cruise and and yacht builds having skyrocketed, labour is sparse and the good guys, the ones you want to build your yacht for you, are charging more for their

skills or are of course already busy building something. SYR are now having to come up with more inventive ways to provide labour to our clients.

So again we ask, what is the solution and ‘How the f*** are we going to build all these boats?

A number of yards are pushing hard to increase their labour pools however. Feadship are working hard on an internal training and development program for unskilled local labour to boost availability. Sunseeker in the UK are doing something similar and others have previously developed international training schools to build external talent pools.

Those with foresight are realising that outsourcing and foreign labour are something we can no longer rely on and that we need to evolve local, homegrown talent pools that will serve us long into the future.

But what happens when the uptake isn’t what’s hoped or if a yard is in an awkward location. What then? Are we going to start moving to machines to do what people used to? If the automotive world can create machines for spraying cars, why can’t we do the same with yachts? Can we use machines to laminate, build furniture or install engines?

These are the questions we should be asking right now. Where is the future of yacht building headed from a human labour perspective?

We’d love to hear your thoughts

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