On October 5-7, business leaders, regulators and educators gathered at the CCMIT center in Linthicum Heights, Maryland to discuss the future of U.S. maritime education. The IMO designated “Maritime Education and Training” as the theme of this year's World Maritime Day, and the conference was scheduled to coincide with this year’s celebration.
Noteworthy attendees included Congressman Elijah Cummings (MD, 7th Dist.), USCG Commandant Paul Zukunft, Mark Barker, President of Interlake Steamship, Glen Paine, Executive Director of MITAGS, MARAD Administrator Paul “Chip” Jaenichen and RADM Michael Alfultis (USMS, Ph.D., President of SUNY Maritime) among many others.
The conference comes at a time of change for the American maritime workforce and for the educators who help mariners achieve the standards required in today's shipping industry. As millennials are coming of age, they are entering the workforce with a new set of learning preferences.
Advanced simulation and the Navigational Skills Assessment Program, which has been developed by MITAGS-PMI, are providing new tools in training mariners. Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard is phasing in the IMO STCW 2010 Manila Amendments on training and certifications, which will also raise the bar for watchkeeper training and assessment as well.
Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) gave the opening day speech on the need to provide the option of a quality maritime-focused education at a much earlier age in order to expose children to a wide range of career possibilities. He thanked the educators for creating public high schools such as the Baltimore Maritime Industries Academy and said many of the students attending the high school did not even know that Baltimore had a seaport before attending.
“If you never see anything, how can you dream about it? How can you reach for something that you don't even know is there?” he asked. He also highlighted Edison Chouest's summer program, which brought a group of students from Baltimore Academy to their facilities to train and learn and paid them as well. Cummings said that “The maritime spirit is trying to lift up people and help them to get to where they can go in life.”
Carleen Lyden-Kluss, co-founder and executive director of NAMEPA, emphasized the importance of partnerships and resources for education, especially for low-income students at maritime high schools. She had an unexpected takeaway from the panel discussions: “What came as a surprise to a number of us was that we were engaging in some of the basic needs of urban students. And we're talking about food. We're talking about shelter. We're talking about clothing. We're talking about safety.”
She suggested that, at many maritime high schools, these needs must be addressed first if students are to learn the academic and practical skills necessary for a maritime career. There are now nearly 50 maritime-focused primary and secondary schools in the U.S., up from just two in 2001.
Dr. Art Sulzer (Ed.D., MPSEC), a pioneer in maritime primary and secondary education, stressed the importance of industry credentialing in training programs. “You need to follow industry standards,” he stated. “When those [students] come out, their credentials should match what employers want. Whatever's going to help them get to the head of the line, you need to do that.”
He also echoed other participants in emphasizing hands-on learning for millennials: “Kids of this generation are hands-on learners. They don't sit in front of a blackboard like we did. They learn in short bursts. They're very hands-on focused.”
USCG Commandant Paul Zukunft provided the conference's keynote address on the topic of developing future organizational leadership. Captains of industry and leaders in education and administration – as well as captains of ships – should prioritize “training [their] relief,” Zukunft said, to produce the leadership they will need not just for the near future but also to eventually replace themselves. He touched briefly on the Coast Guard's own challenges in recruitment and retention, especially in technology, and on the growing importance of cybersecurity in the maritime sector.