Trade-school resurgence sought
With post-education costs rising, the job market recovering and high school graduates mulling over the investment of a four-year degree, The Landing School on River Road in Arundel is working on resurging a trade school education.
The Landing School is a post-secondary educational institution focusing on the technical skills needed in the marine industry, such as small boat building, cruising boat building and yacht design, among others.
Bob DeColfmacker, president of The Landing School, said there’s a renewed interest in trade schools because of the weighted financial investment of a fouryear college or university.
“Today, there’s really no protection. So many jobs can be digitized and outsourced.” DeColfmacker said. “Trade skills can’t be digitized. It involves people.”
The Landing School was founded in 1978 by John Burgess and Helen Tupper with the hope of keeping the trade of wooden boat building in Maine alive. Since it was founded, the school has expanded from being housed in a cow barn to offering associate’s degrees in four different concentrations in multiple buildings. To date, The Landing School has graduated more than 1,300 students, six of whom have returned as instructors.
Students can earn degrees in comprehensive boat building, boat building and marine systems, boat building and yacht design and yacht design and marine systems. More than 300 boats have been constructed by students since the school’s inception and most have been sold to private bidders.
Students range in age from 18 to 64 years old and come from a wide variety of geographic locations and backgrounds. DeColfmacker said students have come from as far away as Korea and England to attend the school’s programs. He also said student diversity includes former attorneys, Iraq War veterans and recent high school graduates.
DeColfmacker believes the degree concentrations are allowing graduates to find jobs much easier because they learn trades that will provide job security.
“We’re finding that within the marine industry specifically there is a significant shortage of qualified employees and, likewise, a lack of accredited educational institutions that focus purely on this industry,” DeColfmacker said in the press release.
He also said because the skills students learn are so multi-faceted, graduates have the ability to enter a variety of fields.
The Landing School graduates have gone on to work in not only the marine industry, but also aeronautics, environmental technology and the automotive industry, among other industries.
Within the last week, DeColfmacker said he had heard of three more students who have lined up jobs postgraduation.
Ken Rusinek, director of education at The Landing School, said the reason the job placement program is so successful is because of its unique educational approach and the passion students bring to their studies.
“Students who come here really are addicted to boats,” Rusinek said. “The boat bug has clearly bit the students. It’s really a driver of this place.”
Rusinek said the skills students learn at The Landing School are skills that can’t simply be absorbed and understood by reading and studying books. He said the curriculum is designed to mix a traditional classroom method with a hands-on experience.
“You think you know it, now prove it to us,” DeColfmacker said. “It’s easy to slide under the radar, but that’s tough to do here. There’s a mechanism of accountability.”
Each student works from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., five days a week on their particular projects, and oftentimes more. Nearly all of the boats students work on are vessels that will be sold and used privately or commercially and must be completed by graduation on June 16, DeColfmacker said.
A student’s typical work day may include cutting lumber, strength testing composite materials used in things such as kayaks or repairing various kinds of boat engines.
Students are also encouraged to work on personal projects during their tenure. Personal projects have included surfboards, skis and skateboards, along with boats.
DeColfmacker said the ability to let students see their finished work and achieve a goal in building something gives them a great sense of pride.
“In this day and age, many occupations now aren’t set to see the accomplishments of what we do,” he said. “Students in trade or tech education get that feeling every day.”
Jennifer Robertson, enrollment and marketing manager at The Landing School, said she sees a revival of trade and technical schools on the horizon.
“A lot of kids get shoved into this mold of college,” Robertson said. “That mentality needs to change. I think over time, they might opt to go to a trade school for job security.”
Both Robertson and DeColfmacker said they encourage residents to tour their facility. Robertson said The Landing School has been working on extending its local outreach through tours and participation in community events. The school has also offered conference room space to community groups.
DeColfmacker said he hopes The Landing School will continue to be a premier institution in the marine industry and it is currently looking to add offerings.
“The (students) really actually learn how to build something,” he said.
To learn more about The Landing School, or to schedule a tour of the campus, contact the school at 985-7976.
Staff Writer Adam Chabot can be reached at 282-4337 ext. 233.