Jason Dean has some advice for high school students thinking about what’s next after graduation – keep an open mind about possible career paths.

“I wasn’t thinking about going into a career of working on boats, but it sounded like fun and I gave it a shot, and I love it. Look outside of your interests if an opportunity comes along,” said Dean, a 2023 East Jordan High School graduate.

That advice is exactly what led Dean, 19, to a career at Irish Boat Shop in Charlevoix as a marine technician apprentice. In summer 2022, Dean began working for Irish as a boat valet – transporting boats for customers to and from docks and for service. Next came the opportunity to join the company’s apprenticeship program, which he entered in November 2022 to start learning even more about the business and the potential for a full-time career. During the apprenticeship, Dean was paired with a technician and began learning boat repair on weekdays from 1-5 p.m., earning money and credit hours toward graduation. 

After graduation in May 2023, he was offered a full-time position, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays off-season and Monday-Saturday during the busy boating season. He credits his high school career and technical education courses – Automotive Technology and Welding, Brazing and Soldering – in providing him with a foundation of skills to get him started learning the boat business.

“In autos I learned how to work on engines and tool handling skills, and some of those skills transfer to boat engines as well,” Dean explained. 

Dean’s entry into the workforce after graduation was recently recognized as part of Char-Em ISD’s Career Tech to Careers initiative. Career Tech to Careers recognizes students who take career tech classes during high school, such as Automotive Technology, and enter the workforce utilizing those CTE skills after graduation. The celebration events are organized by the ISD’s Career and Technical Education Department. 

On a blustery December afternoon that was definitely not a “boat day,” Laura Kohler, Irish’s human resources manager, said Dean has proven to be a valuable employee, eager to learn, prompt and friendly – “soft skills” they’re looking for in all employees, along with trainability. 

In the winter months, staff like Dean are busy prepping boats for summer boating season: sanding, painting, varnishing, waxing, polishing, repairing, and also fixing mechanical problems. They also receive new stock for the coming season.

“I enjoy working with the older techs and learning how to do things, because I know someday I’ll get to do those things myself,” Dean said. 

Full-time employment at Irish Boat Shop comes with health insurance, retirement contributions, tool reimbursement, paid time off and other benefits. Kohler hopes that stories like Dean’s will help inspire other young people to join the workforce after graduation and consider employers like Irish. 

“Jason is very mechanical and enjoys working with his hands,” she said. “I’ve been visiting school CTE programs and trying to get students interested at a younger age with the career opportunities that are available. I tell the students about Jason’s story often.”

For Dean, success is in finding a job he enjoys every day. “I found something that I really like, by looking outside of what I originally thought I was going to do for a career. This showed up and I thought it’d be cool. I’m glad I did.”

Irish Boat Shop has three locations. The Harbor Springs location was started in 1961; Charlevoix in 1971; and Traverse City opened in 2018.

Photo caption:

Pictured at a recent Career Tech to Careers signing event for Jason Dean (seated second from right) are (front row, from left) Laura Kohler, Irish Boat Shop human resources manager, Jim Rummer, Char-Em ISD Director of Career and Technical Education, Dean, and Scott Koziol, Char-Em ISD superintendent; (back row, from left) Mark Rowbotham, Irish service manager, Hannah Sanderson, Char-Em ISD CTE consultant, Kristyn Lynch, East Jordan High School counselor, and Tory Thrush, Char-Em ISD CTE career/college readiness consultant. 

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