A Decade of Collaboration Yields Big Results

File image courtesy PMI

Published Feb 19, 2016 8:27 PM by Dione Lee

This is a story of people and organizations working together for the common good by ensuring an adequate supply of qualified and competent U.S. merchant mariners for today and well into the future. As a result of this highly successful, non-partisan collaboration, 111 new Officers In Charge of the Navigational Watch (OICNW) have joined the maritime industry since 2006, and many more are being readied for entry. Soon, Officers in Charge of an Engineering Watch (OICEW) will join them as part of an ongoing partnership of business, education, labor and government in Washington State.

How It All Began

Ten years ago, a handful of organizations came together to discuss how to attract and maintain the next generation of qualified mariners. The impending shortfall, especially of licensed deck officers, was starting to be felt by tug and barge companies in the Puget Sound region. At the time, the average age of licensed deck officers was about 50.

In port regions like Puget Sound, maritime companies provide a critical link among local, national and international economies, so it was relatively easy to gain support from other agencies to help find solutions to the looming shortage. The participating organizations called themselves the Pacific Marine Towing Industry Partners (PMTIP).

One organization in particular, the Pacific Maritime Institute (PMI) in Seattle, applied for state funds to help kick-start this collaborative endeavor. It then moved forward with an apprentice-style, licensed mate program to help meet the immediate need for licensed deck officers. The result was the Workboat Academy Deck Program, a 28-month course alternating between academic and sea phases.

A Symbiotic Relationship

The two endeavors – the PMTIP partnership and the Workboat Academy Deck Program – were instrumental in bringing the community together to focus on the maritime industry as a source of highly skilled, high-wage occupations. They formed a kind of symbiotic relationship in their impact on the local economy and the entire maritime industry.

Over the years, the Workboat Academy Deck Program grew and is now offered in two other locations – at the Maritime Institute of Technology & Graduate Studies’ (MITAGS) campus in Baltimore and the Houston Marine Training Services’ (HMTS) facility in New Orleans. The program boasts, among other accolades, a 90% retention rate, the 2012 U.S. Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship Innovator and Trailblazer Award, and the 2015 Lloyd’s List Training Award.

Meanwhile, the PMTIP partnership grew as a “skill panel.” In 2008, it was asked to have a member testify before a congressional committee as part of an ongoing inquiry into the workforce shortage issue. What Congress learned was how this “skill panel” put partisan issues aside and worked together for the common good.

Recognizing that the towing sector shared similar concerns as other parts of the maritime industry, the PMTIP in 2009 expanded from being a marine towing skill panel to a maritime multisector “cluster” skill panel through a planning grant awarded by the Washington State Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board.

An operating plan was completed in 2010 with a focus on engineering. Why engineering? Because during the initial stages of the planning grant it was quickly discovered that engineering was the common denominator that linked all of the maritime sectors together. One of the projects identified was to develop an engineering program similar to the highly successful Workboat Academy Deck Program, which brings us up to the present day.

The Marine Engineering Apprenticeship Program

Today, this original group of innovators is gearing up once again to work toward building a Marine Engineering Apprenticeship Program by joining forces with multiple agencies that were awarded a U.S. Department of Labor American Apprenticeship Innovation Grant.

One of the primary objectives of the grant was to train additional competent and qualified Officers in Charge of an Engineering Watch (OICEWs). This was needed to offset the anticipated shortfall of such individuals resulting from new requirements created by the 2010 STCW Manila Amendments, which mandated OICEWs on more domestic vessels, including towing/tugboat, passenger, tank and cargo vessels.

The Workboat Academy, by offering its new Marine Engineering Apprenticeship Program, will be instrumental in finding and training qualified candidates, helping to make apprenticeships available to them, and removing any potential barriers for both the employer and the apprentice. Targeted candidates include veterans, transitioning service members, and underrepresented populations. The goal is to train more than 150 engineers over the next five years, both in Seattle and Baltimore.

Great job, everyone, especially PMI and the PMTIP for being instrumental in helping to make this happen! Your legacy will be felt for many years to come, especially in the Pacific Northwest.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.