Crafting Careers in Marine Trades

President, Nikki Storey, and Director of Development, Tom Coates, with a group of students in a wooden boat on a trailer in front of the Great Lakes Boat Building School.
President, Nikki Storey, and Director of Development, Tom Coates, with a group of students in front of the Great Lakes Boat Building School.

By Abby Moran 

Nestled against the shoreline of Lake Huron bordering the Cedarville community lies Michigan’s sole accredited marine trades institution. Started in 2005 by locals interested in preserving the wooden boat building trade, the Great Lakes Boat Building School (GLBBS) has made a name in the marine industry and continues crafting careers in marine trades nearly 20 years since its founding.

Great Lakes Boat Building School offers two courses to students: Comprehensive Career Boat Building Program and Marine Service Technology. The courses vary in content with the Comprehensive Career Boat Building Program (CCBB) focused on the traditional art of boat carpentry. Students learn to build and repair boats including construction, assembly, repairs and finishing according to a specific set of blueprints.

The Marine Service Technology Program (MST) is designed to prepare students for an industry voraciously searching for skilled labor. The hands-on MST program teaches students the mechanics of both inboard and outboard boat engines in preparation for careers in marinas, boatyards, boat dealerships, yacht centers and cruise lines. A partnership with Mercury Marine provides the opportunity for students to earn an exclusive technician number while learning from Mercury Marine’s extensive online education system.  The partnership also allows students to achieve Mercury Marine’s renowned maintenance certifications.

“We’re working to add a third program in Marine Electronics,” GLBBS President, Nikki Storey states. “We’ll be the first school in the country to offer a specific marine electronics program. We’re adapting to the needs of the marine industry and ensuring our students are prepared.”

The CCBB and MST programs are both 12 months long and broken into three semesters. The courses start with the boatyard operation basics. Students are taught to back up trailers and launch boats from the dock before advancing to boating operations and marine safety standards.

“Many of our students have never been on a boat before,” Storey states. “You don’t have to have a background in boating - we will teach you everything you need to know to have a career in the industry.”

Students standing in front of a boat engine that they just repaired.
(From left to right): Students, Nash Blackmer, Alexander Hofius, Ian McClaughry, Caleb Kohlmann, Bret Luft, Kyle Faner working on an engine for the MST program

The lead instructor, Matt Edmondson, attended GLBBS in 2012 and graduated through both the CCBB and MST programs. While talented in both programs, Edmondson found his teaching passion in the marine services technology program. Edmondson’s instructional style is founded in real-world marine standards. Instead of a classroom lecture, he practices a morning briefing with the students, preparing them for the opportunities and goals of the day. The purpose behind this teaching style is to prepare students for real-world careers in the marine industry.

“The number one thing students need to know is how to solve problems,” Edmondson states. “Watching them use what they learned to solve difficult (engine) problems is one of my favorite parts of teaching.”

An exciting venture for GLBBS was the launch of the Career Technical Education (CTE) Small Engine Program at Cedarville High School. The program launched in September 2021 with eight students from Pickford and Cedarville high schools enrolled in the yearlong course. Students learned the basics of boatyard operations before advancing to small engine repair. Students in the program can opt to continue their skills by enrolling in the MST program at GLBBS after graduation. The school even offers a scholarship to students graduating the CTE program with a C grade or higher.

“Two students from the CTE program have decided to enroll in the 2023 MST program,” Storey states. “We’re excited to make an impact at both the local and national level.”

The CCB and MST programs are designed for job placement in the marine industry and Great Lakes Boat Building School is proud to boast a 100% job placement rate. In fact, marine industry employers often seek to hire additional graduates due to the strong skillsets of GLBBS students. Graduates of the school have been awarded full-ride scholarships from marine industry businesses due to the excellence in education GLBBS students bring into the workplace. Michigan is the third largest marine industry in the nation and the career opportunities for GLBBS students are limitless as the industry eagerly seeks talented labor.

A male and female student working on the structure of a wooden boat inside the school's woodworking shop.
Students, Grant Isler and Jenny Perkins working on a wooden boat for the CCBB program

As GLBBS continues its mission to empower the marine industry with skilled workers, it found the need to expand workshop space and learning opportunities for students. Interest in the school has grown to the point the school waitlisted students in 2021. In spring 2022, $2.7 million was awarded to Great Lakes Boat Building School from the federal CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant. The grant will provide a 10,000-squre-foot expansion, new boat-docking infrastructure and the purchase of additional marine equipment. The total project cost is $3.8 million, and the school is fundraising the remaining $1.1 million needed to reach project completion.

“We are halfway to our goal of raising $1.1 million for the expansion,” Tom Coates, GLBBS Director of Development states. “It’s inspirational to be a part of the school’s first campaign of this size and we are appreciative of the support for our students.”

The expansion of the school will grow impact on the community from $1 million to about $2.5 million while preserving the small community values of the Cedarville area.

“We have a nationally recognized, accredited marine trades school right here in the Eastern Upper Peninsula,” Storey describes. “It’s exciting for Cedarville and the entire local community.”

To learn more about the Great Lakes Boat Building School please visit Applications for the 2023-2024 program are currently available.