Bill would expand maritime workforce training

Ashley Wilber earned a career studies certificate in maritime technologies from Tidewater Community College in 2010 while she worked as an apprentice at BAE Systems Norfolk Shipyard Repair. She is now an apprentice instructor and craft supervisor at BAE. (Photo: TCC)

A bill introduced this week in the House would designate certain coastal community colleges as maritime workforce training centers to help industry employers find much-need skilled workers.

“In our district, we have a surplus of maritime jobs and not enough people with the skills and training to fill them,” said Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), one of the bill’s sponsors. There are more than 56,000 direct maritime-related jobs at the Port of Houston alone.

Through the proposed Maritime Workforce Training Centers of Excellence, colleges such as Virginia’s Rappahannock Community College and Tidewater Community College (TCC) could help more in developing the talent pipeline for the U.S. maritime industry, which includes shipbuilders and repairmen to serve the Navy, said Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), the bill’s other sponsor. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) secretary would select the sites.

DOT would provide the centers with funding, technical assistance, surplus federal equipment and other assets. In additional to supporting existing maritime programs, the additional help would also assist designated centers to admit more students; recruit and train faculty; expand facilities; create new maritime career pathways; and award students credit for prior experience, including military service.

Ready to serve

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there will be a 15 to 20 percent shortage in qualified maritime journeymen through 2020.

The Port of Virginia is handling record cargo volumes, said John Reinhart, executive director of the Virginia Port Authority. To meet the growth, the port is investing in its terminals to increase the annual capacity by 1 million container units by 2020, he said.

“Our industry partners have told us repeatedly how critical it is to ramp up training in an industry that will require a skilled workforce to remain economically competitive,” said TCC President Edna V. Baehre-Kolovani, which hosts the Southeast Maritime and Transportation (SMART) Center, the only National Science Foundation Advanced Technology Education Center devoted to developing the maritime workforce.

TCC also offers academic and workforce training programs in many of the maritime and energy skills that employers are seeking, including logistics, supply chain management, warehouse and distribution, welding, diesel and gasoline engines, alternative energies and industrial technologies.

San Jacinto College is home to Texas’ first maritime transportation associate degree program. (Photo: SJC)

A center of excellence designation for San Jacinto College in the Houston area — which is second in the nation for maritime jobs — would allow the college to continue to provide U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)-approved training to help meet the workforce needs of the Gulf Coast region, said President Brenda Hellyer.

The maritime industry requires technical skills training and licensing, even for entry-level positions. To earn appropriate credentials for each level of maritime industry employment, workers must complete regular training from course providers approved by the USCG. Community and technical colleges offer this training on an affordable basis.

Since 2010, San Jacinto’s maritime program has awarded more than 5,500 USCG-approved course completion certificates. It also introduced the state’s first associate degree program in maritime transportation to train those new to the maritime industry. Last year, it opened a new maritime technology and training center on the Maritime Campus in La Porte, Texas.

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