As we reopen, let’s also reskill the workforce

(From left) AltaSea CEO Tim McOsker, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, Blue Robotics founder Rusty Jehangir, and Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Bill Allen discuss one of Blue Robotics' underwater remotely operated vehicles.

The country is inching closer to the long-awaited reopening of our economy. As businesses begin to go back to normal operations, we should set our sights on making Los Angeles a leader in the future of employment: sustainable, clean, well-paying careers in the blue economy.

The blue, or ocean, economy is described as the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth. This can include everything from cultivating kelp as a healthy source of protein to harvesting seaweed as replacement for petroleum plastics.

Land-based food production is increasingly stressed by climate change, and farmers will have to look to our oceans for sustainable food supplies. Aquatic farming, or aquaculture, is a growing economic sector poised to generate a significant amount of revenue and provide well-paying jobs for the economic recovery. But in order to make this a reality, we need to develop and train the workforce to be able to meet the demands of an emerging aquaculture industry. Luckily, they would not require doctorates and master’s degrees to be successful in this field. We believe it’s much simpler than that.

Together, AltaSea and Santa Monica College are working to create a marine aquaculture certification program. The program would be the first of its kind in California, and would provide students hands-on technical training, an introduction to the biology and ecology of the aquaculture species, and exposure to the policy and business aspects of the industry.

Students who enroll in the two-year aquaculture certification program will have a quick pathway to gainful careers. Unlike many students at four-year colleges and universities, they will not be saddled with crippling student debt, thanks to the significantly reduced fees of California community colleges. That, coupled with the benefit of helping save the planet while creating financial independence should encourage Gen Z – and perhaps even those of prior generations – to consider aquaculture.

A campus to train and grow

Santa Monica College and AltaSea are uniquely positioned to prepare workers for this robust and potentially lucrative economic sector for one big, obvious reason: our proximity to the Pacific Ocean.

In 2020, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration designated Southern California as one of only two regions nationally approved as a location for well-planned, environmentally-sound aquaculture.

AltaSea’s 35-acre campus and its stable of tenants provide ample opportunities for training and internships for students. Tenants come from a wide variety of blue economy sectors, from Blue Robotics, which manufactures underwater remotely operated vehicles, to Holdfast Aquaculture, which provides oyster and mussel seeds for sustainable seafood growers, producing protein sources with little or no carbon emissions.

The blue economy should not be overlooked in America’s path to recovery after the devastating economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic — it is worth about $1.5 trillion with predictions it will double in the next decade. This virtually untapped economic sector is something both the state and federal governments should embrace. In Los Angeles County alone, the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation estimates that the blue economy will create more than 126,000 direct jobs and pay an estimated $37 billion in wages by 2023.

Leading the way

The Santa Monica College and AltaSea training certification program will serve as a blueprint that can be implemented at other community colleges on U.S coasts as well as abroad.

California has always been on the forefront of innovation and creativity. We created Silicon Valley, home to the largest tech companies in the world. We built rockets in Southern California and sent astronauts to space and will now shortly send civilians into orbit. We’re producing sleek and efficient electric vehicles that will help further reduce our carbon footprint.

This is yet another opportunity for Southern California to be a global leader, this time for the blue economy. Training a workforce for these good-paying jobs is key if we want to maintain our competitive edge.

Turning to our oceans as the new frontier for innovation, is not only prudent, but prescient. As Southern California gets back to business, let’s make sure we aren’t just focused on today, but that we are keeping our eyes trained toward the future – our ocean, which covers over 70% of the earth and is a source of life for us all.

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Kathryn Jeffery is president of Santa Monica College in California. Tim McOsker is CEO of AltaSea, a public-private institute at the Port of Los Angeles that focuses on advancing an emerging blue economy through business innovation and job creation.