Portland Yacht Services will be hiring 15 to 20 marine technicians over the next two to three years as it expands its boatyard business at its new home on West Commercial Street.

But one obstacle to the company’s growth is the lack of skilled workers who can repair outboard motors and diesel engines, said Jason Curtis, the company’s vice president of operations.

“We are building a new facility now, and we need the technicians to go with it,” Curtis said.

In an effort to lure high school students to the trade, the boatyard is partnering with the Universal Technical Institute, which offers training in diesel engine technology at its campus in Norwood, Mass., and training in marine technology at its campus in Orlando, Fla.

At the Maine Boat Builders Show next month, the school and the boatyard will be awarding $10,000 in scholarships to high school students who excel in a competition that will test their ability to solve marine-related mechanical problems, such as repairing an outboard engine or motorboat console.

Sixteen juniors and seniors from eight high schools from around the state will be competing.

Curtis said his company is sponsoring the contest because the industry faces a skills gap. Many of its workers are nearing retirement age and there aren’t many young people entering the field, he said.

This is the third year that Portland Yacht Services has sponsored the contest. Last year, one of the winners, Serena Cobleigh, a junior from the Portland Arts & Technology High School, was so impressive that Curtis offered her a summer job on the spot.

Maine’s boatyards also have trouble filling jobs for composites technicians, sailboat riggers and systems technicians, joiners and carpenters, said Susan Swanton, executive director of the Maine Marine Trade Association.

The root of the problem is that high school students aren’t being encouraged to seek jobs or careers in any trade, Swanton said.

“Anybody who works with their hands is having a hard time finding motivated, skilled people to come to work for them,” she said. “It’s bad for the industries, and it’s bad for a lot of young people who can really thrive in the kinds of situations we have available.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, boat maintenance and repair workers rank among the 30 occupations with the largest projected job openings in the nation between 2010 and 2020.

Moreover, Maine had the highest per-capita employment in motorboat and service technician jobs in the nation, with 490 motorboat mechanics earning an average annual age of $38,300.

Portland Yacht Services, which has a staff of 45 people, suffered during the 2008 recession like the rest of the boating industry in Maine. But it has since rebounded and is now positioning itself for growth.

Having sold its sprawling 10-acre Portland Company Marine Complex on the Eastern Waterfront to a developer, Portland Yacht Services plans to move its boatyard to a vacant piece of land just west of the Casco Bay Bridge. At the same time, it plans to continue operating its marina at the Portland Company complex.

The company over the weekend began moving many of its boats down Commercial Street to the new facility. At the new yard, it will have a 150-ton travel lift, allowing it to work on much larger boats than it could in the Portland Company complex, Curtis said.

The boats will be stored and repaired in a newly built stretch-fabric building that is 160 feet long and 120 feet wide.

Curtis said he need to hire more people to work on the bigger boats. He said he wants to hire people who are detail oriented and have already received some training. He said he had recently hired several graduates from Universal Technical Institute, which offers 51-week courses in diesel and marine technology.

One of its graduates, Wesley Marean, 19, of Windham, said his love for boating comes from spending time with his family on Sebago Lake on his grandfather’s outboard motorboat, which he recently restored.

Although he came in fifth place in the troubleshooting competition at the Boat Show two years ago, the experience helped him realize that he could work on boats as a career, he said.

“It made me really want to further my education and prove to myself that I could do it,” he said.

Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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