When Marine Mechanics Institute (MMI) was looking for a place to hold its first outboard motor class, it only seemed natural that it should be near the water. With its abundant lakes, rivers and sunny weather, Orlando, Florida, was an obvious choice.

Beginning with just a single class in 1991, the MMI Orlando program has grown to 35,000 square feet. Students attend to learn the basics, as well as the latest innovations in the marine industry. They also get the opportunity to test their skills and knowledge in a hands-on environment with everything from inboard gas to diesel outboard two-stroke and four-stroke motors in the 70 test tanks on campus.

MMI is a unique learning environment focused on marine technologies — but it’s more than just textbooks, tools and classrooms. What makes MMI special is the enthusiasm that instructors and students share, the practical curriculum, and the relationships MMI has forged within the marine industry.

Passion That Goes All the Way to the Top

One obvious distinction of MMI is the passion that is shared among everyone, from the newest students to the most senior staff members.

Michael Benfer, education manager, connects with MMI students because he started out where they did. He credits his education with giving him the foundation he needed for a lengthy career in the marine industry. He took the route that so many who are mechanically inclined do by attending a vocational school, and as a junior he landed his first job at a local marina in northern Ohio.

“Because I was in a vo-tech high school program, every once in a while one of the mechanics at my work would have challenges with what they were working on. I would take their questions to my instructors at school, and then take that information back to the technician. Sharing my knowledge is what opened up other career opportunities for me at a young age,”6 Benfer says.

Benfer believes the training and support system available at MMI can help students become better marine mechanics and potentially give them the skills, both professionally and personally, that will take them further in their careers rather than if they tried to work their way up in the industry from the bottom.

Curriculum That Mirrors the Real World

MMI’s curriculum is designed to prepare students for what they’ll actually experience in their potential careers in the marine industry. Everything from the tools they train with to the shops they work in are all meant to replicate what they’ll find at an entry-level dealership or marina job.

“Our industry doesn’t typically have climate-controlled service bays for their staff, so our training center here is like that as well. We have these large exterior lab spaces that are under awnings, so they’re protected from rain, but they're not heated in the winter or cooled in the summer. That’s pretty much what the technician will see in their career,” Benfer says.

While a significant amount of their training is dedicated to learning mechanics, students also receive in-depth training on computer systems and customer service techniques. For students who aspire to go into leadership positions, these are skills that can be essential to advancing their careers.

“Most of our graduates hire on to their first job as technicians, and that’s a huge part of our program, but many will also work as service writers, in the parts department and the accessory counter,” says Benfer about potential entry-level jobs for MMI grads.5

Benfer also stresses that the other skills students are taught can prepare them for different roles in the marine industry.

“There are other opportunities within the industry that are important business functions, and these tie into our Service Operations class. In that class, we have individual computer stations, and we teach electronic catalog parts search techniques, estimating repairs, service writing and customer relations skills,” he says.

Valuable Industry Partnerships That Have Launched Careers

There has never been a better time to become a marine technician. The industry is growing, and technicians with mechanical and technological skills are in demand.

Marine products and engine power have made huge advancements. The industry is moving faster than ever, and it needs skilled technicians who can keep up with the pace.

“There is a large amount of aging technicians that just don't have the knowledge or experience with the newer products. Where our students excel is they are typically of the age where they grew up with digital products and they’re not afraid to work with these things,” Benfer says.

Leading marine products manufacturers look to MMI to supply them with skilled and well-trained technicians. In many ways, they are as invested in students’ success as the MMI instructors and staff.

Major brands like Honda Marine, Mercury Marine, Suzuki Marine, Yamaha Marine and Volvo Penta all contribute products and materials to the classrooms and labs where students get to learn hands-on.

“In the marine industry, a boat can come from anywhere, and the expectation on the technician is they are capable of servicing different brands. They have to take all the manufacturer-specific classes so they have the knowledge in how to do this,” Benfer says.

Since the late 1990s, Mercury Marine, Yamaha Marine and Volvo Penta have even provided exclusive dealer training programs that have helped students launch their careers while still in school.2

Life as a Marine Mechanic

Manufacturers have their eyes on MMI students. Benfer recalls one student getting calls for job interviews at three major marine dealerships without even having submitted an application. There are no guarantees that this could happen to everybody, but manufacturers are aware of the level of training and dedication to professionalism that are a part of an education at MMI.

For Benfer, there’s no other job that compares to being a marine mechanic, and he encourages students as they go into their careers to consider the work environment over all the other details.

“I think it’s about the work environment. I tell them to look at ‘their office’ and see what life would be like. I come from a marina background, and it’s an awesome place to be in because typically everyone gets outside and gets to go out on their boats. Even if it’s raining, it beats any other work environment,” Benfer says.

Interested in learning more about MMI Orlando? Visit our Marine Mechanics Institute page.

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