Educating a New Generation - Traditional Boatbuilding & Restoration

Educating a New Generation – Traditional Boatbuilding & Restoration

Taking a Closer Look: Educating a New Generation of Makers

Part of our Guide to Career and Technical Education

by Andrea McHugh

Remember that time you went to a private liberal arts college and double majored in Victorian literature and philosophy and left with a degree, $130K in debt and zero job prospects? You won’t have to look hard to find plenty of Gen X-ers and Gen Y-ers with similar woes of problematic student loans chasing them years, often decades, past graduation. And for some millennials, debt looms so large that it can stand in the way of achieving the life goals, like buying a home or new car.

An increasing number of students are trading the familiar “four-year college after high school” path for learning the trades via career and technical education (CTE). But it’s not only high schoolers (and their parents) taking a closer look at these educational alternatives. Many professionals who have found themselves in unrewarding, dead-end jobs or industries with dwindling demand are also turning to CTE to learn a new career, thus paving an entirely new path.

All photos courtesy of IYRS.

It’s part of the reason the International Yacht Restoration School of Technology & Trades (IYRS) in Newport, Rhode Island, is thriving. “IYRS is an environment where one’s passions, career-goals and self-fulfillment goals intersect,” says Josh Singer, the marketing manager at the harbor-front school. “Students arrive from all over the spectrum in terms of demographics and life experiences. Their time at IYRS allows them to work amongst these individuals, learn from each other, learn from expert faculty and discover their own talents and how far they can push themselves by completing an IYRS program.”

Humble Beginnings


IYRS was orginally a 1903 electric generating plant on the Newport waterfront

When the experiential school was founded in 1993, its Boatbuilding & Restoration program was the bedrock of the curriculum. The school debuted in appropriate style — housed in a 1903 electric generating plant with wide open spaces for making. Singer says out of the gate, only a single student enrolled, but that slow start soon saw a meteoric rise. For some perspective, the school recently offered four short-term workshops — each of which sold out within 24 hours of announcing the courses. It shows, he says, there is a strong interest in hands-on education.

Today, IYRS offers a spectrum of accredited programs in addition to Boatbuilding & Restoration: Composite Technologies, Digital Modeling & Fabrication, and Marine Systems — and a fifth program is in development. In 2017, the school opened the Brooks Building, a $6 million, two-story, 23,000-square foot academically-driven modern marvel, exponentially expanding the footprint of the school’s campus nestled in the heart of Newport’s working waterfront. Housing classes in composites, digital fabrication and marine systems, it stands in distinct contrast to adjacent Restoration Hall and the Coronet Building, the latter of which houses the 133-foot schooner yacht Coronet, a gem when it was built in 1885 and rare survivor of her era. It’s been under restoration on the IYRS campus since 1995.

Finding Your Calling

Two students collaborate on a project

Singer says IYRS is a place one’s passions, career goals and self-fulfillment needs intersect, which means there’s no single profile that fits the IYRS student. “Often they find their true calling, and by completing the IYRS program, it’s almost a self-permission to go down a path you either always wanted to if you’re changing careers, set yourself on an exciting career path if you’re recently out of high school, or utilize the skills you developed in the military to transition into the [public sector] workforce,” says Singer. While the average age of their students is late 20s, the spectrum is far reaching. “We see a good number of individuals who recently graduated high school, students who spent a few years in the workforce and took some time to identify what they wanted to do next, some spent 30 years as a lawyer, a software engineer, or in retail or sales — those are just a few examples— and [those who] just want to pursue something more fulfilling and gratifying.”

When Carter Richardson, owner of East Passage Boatwrights in Bristol, Rhode Island and co-host of the podcast Around the Buoy, finished his service in the U.S. Navy shortly after 9/11, he had a unfulfilling job and sought a career. “I realized that I needed something else in my life,” he recalls. On a whim, he applied to IYRS, despite having no experience in woodworking. He was accepted to the Boatbuilding & Restoration program and was quickly overwhelmed, but determined. All first year students in the program are tasked with restoring a Beetle Cat., a 12-foot, gaff rigged, wooden sailboat. It’s a project that takes skill, time and tenacity. “I still say that the day I sailed the Beetle Cat for the first time is still one of the best days of my life, right up there with the birth of my kids and my wedding,” says Richardson. “To build something from keel up and then to get to take it on the water and use it as it was intended was such a great experience. At that point, I was hooked.”  


A boatbuilding and restoration student perfects their craft.

The Big Picture: Not Just a Boatbuilding School


A bird's eye view of IYRS's campus in Newport, RI. Their location in Newport Harbor is a perfect fit for the boatbuilding & restoration program.

Singer says that it is important to consider IYRS beyond a boat building school as leadership is working hard to continue to broaden the opportunities and possibilities a student can consider pursuing. Students in the Technology & Trades school, for example, often go on to succeed in careers completely unrelated to maritime interests. Advanced composites training, for example, is far reaching. IYRS graduates sit for industry certification exams and often graduate as Certified Composites Technicians who are uniquely positioned to hit the ground running across a host of manufacturing industries. Composites are in the airplanes we fly, the cars we drive, in boats, surfboards, skis, skateboards, buildings — even golf clubs. But commonalities among IYRS students intersect all programs. “Students are surrounded by like-minded individuals who appreciate true craftsmanship; you simply would not enroll at IYRS for a full-time training program if you did not have a deep appreciation for making at a high level and to a high standard,” explains Singer.

Having graduated from a four-year college (or specifically, a four-year coeducational federal service academy) as well as IYRS, Richardson has a rare perspective. “I used to be a firm believer in going to a four-year college to get an education. Now that I am in a blue-collar job, I am not so sure that it is necessary,” Richardson reflects. “The skills gap is real, and you can make a great career by working in a trade —and you will not start out with four years of student loans."

This feature was created in collaboration with IYRS School of Technology & Trades.

Andrea E. McHugh is a media manager, content creator and freelance writer specializing in lifestyle topics including travel, fashion and beauty, homes, weddings and wellness. She’s a regular style correspondent for The Rhode Show on WPRI (CBS) Providence and contributing writer for ArtisansList.com.

She served as an editor for Newport Life and Newport Weddings magazines and her work has appeared in Family Circle, the Hartford Courant, Classic Boat Magazine, Baltimore Magazine, Cape Cod Home, Daily Candy, Design Sponge, Northern Virginia Sun Gazette newspapers, Ocean Avenue, New England Gala Weddings, Providence Monthly and additional regional, national and international print and digital publications.

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