Easing the Transition from Military to Maritime

Soldiers in a survival training class, Fort Eustis (courtesy U.S. Army)

By MarEx 2016-04-28 20:39:01

By 2022, the U.S. maritime industry will need to hire more than 70,000 mariners, and operators are already searching for sources of new engineers, deck officers and ratings. Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and Army have well-qualified personnel leaving active duty for the civilian workforce every day. Many service members already have experience which could put them on the path to licensed positions in the merchant marine – but there are numerous regulatory obstacles to translating their military service into a new career as a licensed mariner.

To find out more about the challenges for veterans entering the industry, the Maritime Executive caught up with Zoe Goss, Director of Marine Development for Crowley Maritime, Marja van Pietersom, Business Development, MITAGS/PMI, and Victor Tufts, Maritime Credentialing and Training Coordinator, MITAGS. They are all well-known experts on merchant mariner credentialing.

Left to right: Victor Tufts, MITAGS, Zoe Goss, Crowley, Marja van Pietersom, MITAGS

MarEx: Can you tell us about MITAGS/PMI's experience with service members entering the maritime industry?

Marja: Starting about seven years ago, we started visiting the military's Transition Assistance Program (TAP) offices – which help prepare service members for life after active duty – to educate the TAP staff about how service members' experience could translate into a maritime career path. We've had great success with recruiting veterans. About half of the Workboat Academy apprentice at our Baltimore campus are ex-servicemembers. 

We've found that veterans are highly sought after by maritime employers. They understand the chain of command, they’re comfortable working at sea for long periods, they're very motivated, and they have Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits to pay for mandatory STCW training.

MarEx: The STCW Manila Amendment on mariner licensing comes into full effect next year – will the new rules make it more difficult for service members to enter the merchant marine?

Marja: Mariner credentialing and licensing will become more difficult for everyone, not just for service members. Today, the minimum STCW-required training needed for a third mate's license totals to seven weeks of classes, and under the new rules that will rise to twenty-two weeks of classes (not counting ARPA, ECDIS and GMDSS). The minimum STCW course requirements for chief mate / master licensing are going up as well.

MarEx: Tell us about the Military to Maritime initiative – what does the program hope to achieve?

Zoe: The Military to Maritime initiative is meant to ease the transition for service members leaving active duty who would like to pursue a career in the commercial maritime industry. It can be difficult for a service member to get a merchant mariner's license equivalent to their level of experience. For example, in many cases, a commander of a Navy vessel would have to begin at an entry level position in the commercial maritime industry.

MarEx: What are industry organizations doing to improve this situation?

Zoe: The Ship Operations Cooperative Program (SOCP) and the Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee (MERPAC) have been working to improve the civilian credentialing process for service members for 15 years.

Crowley Maritime and the American Maritime Partnership, along with many other organizations, have worked hard to attract Congressional attention. Recently the House Coast Guard and Transportation Subcommittee held a listening session that brought together industry representatives and military officials to discuss ways to improve the credentialing process, and that has created new momentum for the initiative.

MarEx: Why has it taken so long to address credentialing for service members?

Zoe: Well, this is exactly the question Representatives Duncan Hunter and John Garamendi asked at the subcommittee listening session. The industry has been moving the agenda forward for years and the Army is the only branch to have fully developed the process.

MarEx: How are the other service branches taking action?

Zoe: Of the service branches, the U.S. Army is furthest along in the process of helping service members get the required paperwork and training. They have a program called “Soldier for Life,” which provides active duty personnel with a counselor to help get them credentialed prior to their departure from service. The Army training school at Fort Eustis offers more than thirty National Maritime Center-approved courses, and they have had a lot of success helping veterans of the Army's small boat program become mariners.

The Coast Guard has been making steady progress, and has upwards of eleven courses in the approval process. The Navy is just starting – last year they began working with us to compare each Navy position's qualifications to the requirements for each merchant mariner license, and we will be holding a meeting with them soon at Fort Eustis to help with that process. We will start by comparing the qualifications for Navy junior engineering officers against Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) qualifications for merchant marine engineers, because that’s where we see the greatest manpower shortage for the industry. We believe that a large percentage of what Navy officers do can be transferred, but it has to be properly documented.

We see the Army as a real leader, and we want the Fort Eustis staff to be part of the first meeting with the Navy. There will be a follow up meeting at the Coast Guard's National Maritime Center (NMC) in May.

MarEx: How has the NMC been involved with advancing service member credentialing and the military's STCW course approvals?

Victor: Both NMC and the Coast Guard's Office of Vessel Activities have been involved throughout this process, and have worked closely with SOCP to ensure that its recommendations meet STCW requirements.

The USCG's Rating Force Master Chiefs are leading the USCG effort to determine which current active-duty training courses are already compliant, and are submitting those courses to NMC for approval. They are also working on a transaction scheme to ease the burden for our veterans in qualifying for merchant mariner credentials.

MarEx: What do you foresee for the near future?

Zoe: Congress is beginning to understand that the issue is urgent and that time is of the essence. The Subcommittee wants action items to be completed quickly, and that's why there are already scheduled meetings at both Fort Eustis and at NMC. We have the momentum with the Navy and the Coast Guard, and we hope to get this done as quickly as we can. 

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