All fixed up in Phuket yachting hub
Resort island raising vocational training in niche market, writes Penchan Charoensuthipan
As more tourists either bring their yachts or splurge on lavish boat parties in cobalt seas off the resort island of Phuket, this jewel in the Andaman is shaping up as a new hub for vocational training in the marine repair and maintenance services market.
Phuket has experienced a tourism boom over the last decade with over 13 million visitors now arriving every year. But the island's thriving economy has also required significant manpower boosts to meet the demands of its growing labour market.
One key sector is the aforementioned services market, which is flourishing. To keep pace, a vocational training programme for four marine maintenance-related fields was launched there in July, said Sutthi Sukosol, director-general of the Department of Skill Development under the Ministry of Labour.
The programme, which wraps up at the end of this month, comprises four courses tailored to suit aspiring mechanics, painters, carpenters and those aiming to specialise in fibreglass repairs of boats.
Besides yacht maintenance, the department has also provided vocational courses for other hospitality services such as bartenders and holistic health therapists to plug gaps in the labour market at local hotels and restaurants.
The ministry is playing an increasingly role in terms of tourism-related job training, pundits say. Last week it held a seminar on human resources development for tourism and service industries in the Andaman coastal provinces, at the Phuket Boat Lagoon Hotel.
The seminar, chaired by Labour Minister Adul Sangsingkeo, was attended by more than 200 officials and business operators.
Pol Gen Adul said Phuket provides repair and maintenance services for around 1,500 yachts a year.
"They come here because they [vessel owners] have confidence in Thai craftsmanship. Yet, the province and the sector still cannot supply enough workers to meet demand," said Mr Adul.
According to the minister, tourists now generate 364 billion baht in revenue for Phuket's economy each year. Of the 13.2 million visitors it received last year, 9.5 million were foreigners.
Pol Gen Adul said the government plans to develop five new hubs on the island. They include a marine hub for yachts; medical tourism; MICE conventions; a resources and manpower development centre; and a so-called "smart tourism" cluster.
The island, which also ranks as a province, has 43 piers, five of which can accommodate cruise liners.
Adisak Chatchawate, director of Phuket Technical College, said marine repairs and maintenance were incorporated into its curriculum several years ago. The college already offered a vocational course in yacht mechanics, he said.
Mr Adisak said the class gained positive feedback because of the high salaries such jobs can command there, and the size of the class soon doubled.
A second, more sophisticated course on yacht mechanics will be offered next year yielding a higher-level vocational certificate, he said.
Before launching these courses, the college engaged in discussions with local yacht repair and maintenance operators in order to secure training fields for students under a series of bilateral projects, he added.
Mr Adisak said he believed students in both classes would be able to further expand their career paths as foreign investors have recently expressed interest in this industry.
Phumkitti Raktaengan, chairman of the Phuket Tourist Association, said he wanted to see a Thai institute produce more highly skilled human resources in yacht-related fields including mechanics, design, shipbuilding and repairs.
"Today, well-to-do foreigners from all corners of the world [bring] their luxury yachts worth up to 100 million baht apiece [to Phuket] for repair and maintenance because of our first-rate craftsmanship and reasonable prices," he said.
"Our [high level of] service has become well-known by word of mouth," he added.
Graham Douglas Kettleton, the Australian captain of the luxury cruise ship Ajao, praised Thai craftsmen for fine yacht maintenance work. He said Thailand ranks as one of the world's top five countries in this field and echoed Mr Phumkitti's views.
"Fine craftsmanship with reasonable prices is the main factor for foreigners to have their yachts receive repair and maintenance in Thailand," he said.
Chit Simuangphan, 67, from Phetchaburi, said he has worked as a yacht maintenance craftsman for nearly two decades.
"Going back 20 years my daily wage was less than 200 baht, but today I earn 600-700 baht a day," he said.
Mr Chit said young trainees can now learn marine repair and maintenance skills at his workplace during the low season from May to November.
During this period, yacht owners tend to have their vessels repaired so they are ready for use from December to April.
He said he always tells trainees the job requires a strong sense of devotion and perseverance due to the intricate level of detail involved.