High tide for opportunities

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 June, 2007, 12:00am

An estimated export value of US$180 million last year and a rapidly developing domestic market means that the booming mainland yachting industry offers many employment opportunities.

Shipyards are seeking qualified engineers and technical managers, while yacht dealers and brokers need experienced sales and marketing managers to cope with outstanding growth. Designers, naval architects, public relations and marketing positions are also available in many locations. An increasing number of yacht clubs are willing to hire crew who can earn more than 200,000 yuan a year.

'Shipyards are desperately looking to recruit and Hong Kong managers are especially sought after, as they will have been immersed in a western yachting culture and have the ability to deal with Chinese workers, suppliers and customers,' said Adrien Magnan of Marine Dragon Consulting, which specialises in the development and promotion of the yachting industry in China.

Marine accessories manufacturer Genuine Marine, based in Zhuhai, has openings for sales staff, and managing director James Georgechen said his clients were always looking for talented yard workers and marketing people.

'There are no training programmes in China for boat building, so anyone from Hong Kong who has a major in it, or is familiar with AutoCAD design software, or has yard experience can find work,' said Mr Georgechen. 'The industry is only going to grow now.'

Order books for China-based boatyards are full for several years. A 2006 report by Marine Dragon Consulting estimates the growth of the Chinese boat building industry to be 30 per cent for the next three years, and China is now ranked the number six super-yacht builder and ranked the 10th (commercial and other) boat builder in the world.

Foreign boat builders have joint ventures or rent space from local boatyards, while Hong Kong and Singaporean investors are building big.

Cheoy Lee in Doumen, Kingship in Zhongshan, and Yantai Raffles Shipyard in Yantai are now building world-class super-yachts. This year's China International Boat Show in Shanghai - the largest trade show in the industry in Asia - attracted more than 350 exhibitors and over 20,000 visitors.

'We fully expect China to become the leading boat building nation,' said Mr Magnan.

'Western boat builders have understood the potential of the Chinese domestic market. They have acknowledged the importance of brand building and nearly all the main players have passed agreements with local dealers to represent their brands.'

Wages fluctuate according to experience. Demand for engineers is the greatest, as there are about 150 yards building private leisure craft on the mainland and a lack of suitably qualified candidates.

Office-based engineers can earn up to 10,000 yuan, while a carpenter with five years' experience in Shanghai could earn 6,000 yuan a month. Sales and marketing positions are potentially lucrative.

Sales deals offer attractive commission, especially if it is a yacht worth several million yuan. Earnings can be more than 1 million yuan a year.

The shortage of skilled manpower in shipyards means that wages have to be adjusted quarterly to limit staff turnover, and the arrival of European and American boat builders in Guangdong, Fujian, and Jiangsu has unsettled the market.

Guangdong province accounts for about 35 per cent of export in terms of value, and its Pingsha Yacht Industrial Zone has developed rapidly since 2001, with more than 10 yacht manufacturing enterprises set up there and total investment exceeding 500 million yuan.

A characteristic of these industrial yacht parks is their integration into the environment, including the building of marinas, tourism resorts and golf courses. More than 40 marina projects are at different stages of development throughout the country.

With both sailing and motor yachts filling the berths at the marinas, the demand for crew is increasing. There is a shortage of skilled staff in catering and navigation. Levels of service are expected to be on a par with golf clubs and hotels.

Work on motor yachts involves long hours of menial work, an ability to multitask and be adept in the art of silver service, laundry procedures, housekeeping and entertaining.

Often the boat dealer who makes the sale finds crew for the owner. Navigators must have a mainland licence, which can be gained at schools in Zhuhai, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Suzhou or Qingdao.

'There are no real market rules for wages right now; it's supply and demand, and it changes according to location of the marina, boat or the factory,' said Mr Magnan whose company is looking for a sales and marketing manager to work with a Taiwanese super-yacht building partnership in Zhuhai.

'We need someone who can work with Taiwanese and mainland Chinese to create a new brand leader in super-yachts. A 127-foot composite and aluminium super-yacht is already under construction.'

China has more than 500,000

US-dollar millionaires, and owning a yacht is seen as the next step in flamboyance.

Kelli-Jo Walker, marketing director of Simpson Marine, one of the region's leading yacht dealers, expected sales to grow steadily. The Hong Kong-based company has just opened an office in Shanghai.

'Yacht sales do well in buoyant economies,' Ms Walker said. 'Our Azimut range has drawn significant interest from mainland Chinese buyers.'

With easier access to transport and a demand for fresh air away from crowded cities, leisure activities in China hold much appeal.

The China Team took part in the America's Cup for the first time this year, and sailing is being promoted among the Chinese elite and in schools. Qingdao will host the water sports events for the 2008 Olympic Games, a major task in terms of logistics, infrastructure and administration. The 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou and the 2010 Shanghai World Expo are also incentives for investment.