“Everything around here, one way or another, runs on the water,” said Jennifer Palestrant of Tidewater Community College and the Southeast Maritime and Transportation (SMART) Center, as she opened a two-day conference in Norfolk focused on all things maritime.
“All Hands on Deck,” the 2019 National Maritime Education Conference held June 10 and 11 at the Norfolk Sheraton, brought together industry representatives and educators to identify the opportunities, issues and challenges when it comes to strengthening America’s maritime sector.
Everyone, from President Trump on down, says beefing up the maritime industry is essential to national and economic security. In fact, it’s one of the few areas of agreement in D.C., speakers said.
Training the maritime workforce, however, is a work in progress. “If we’re going to reap the benefits of the maritime industry, we have to meet the need for skilled workers,” U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, said in his keynote address on Monday. “We live in an increasingly global economy. We’re competing for jobs with cities all over the world.”
Scott said his colleagues agree on the need to support skills-based education, and he hopes, through the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, that students in high-quality short-term programs will become eligible for Pell Grants, just as academic students are. “We agree on policy,” he said. “We disagree about funding. I don’t know how that’s going to work out.”
Retired Navy Rear Adm. Mark Buzby heads MARAD, the Maritime Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation. He’s a frequent visitor to Capitol Hill to testify before Congress about how to energize the maritime industry.
“They ask me, ‘Admiral, how do you fix this?’ ” he said. “I tell them we need more ships, we need more cargo, and we need more people.”
Buzby reported that the establishment of the Domestic Centers of Maritime Excellence at community and technical colleges – which was approved last year as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) — is making its way through various bureaucratic hoops. The centers will bolster maritime education at two-year and technical colleges by growing enrollment, recruiting more faculty, expanding facilities and creating new career pathways.
“Nobody is against it,” Buzby said, describing his boss, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao as a “ferocious advocate” of maritime. “But because it’s brand new, they want to make sure the language is exactly right. I can’t tell you when, but we’ll get there. Congress is supportive.”
He puts shipping and maritime operations in the same infrastructure category as roads, bridges and rail systems. “Not just ports and ships, but also people.” But the general public has very little understanding of maritime and the maritime industry, he added. “Most experience maritime through the cruise industry.
“I’m enlisting you to help get the word out,” he said. “We need to reach out at the high school level to spark interest in young men and women in going to sea.”
Participants spent two days discussing strategies, such as applying military experience to credit programs, developing high school maritime programs, navigating to recognized industry credentials, and promoting high school dual enrollment and incumbent worker training.
They also heard from John Reinhart, CEO and executive director of the Port of Virginia, and Shashi Kumar of MARAD, who focuses on education and training.
In addition to TCC, conference sponsors included Learn America, a New York maritime training center; Florida Keys Community College; San Jacinto College-Maritime (Texas); American Trucking Association; Virginia Ship Repair Association; Virginia Maritime Association; Colonna’s Shipyard; Port of Virginia; Lyon Shipyard; Massimo Zanetti; Nauticus; and Downs Government Affairs LLC.
TCC’s work with the maritime industry has been “just amazing,” said President Gregory DeCinque. Recognizing the importance of those industry partnerships, he told the participants, “You really reflect the true pathway where we need to go as a country. My mantra is ‘partner or perish.’ We can’t go it alone anymore.”
Interested in learning more about TCC’s maritime and skilled trades programs? Call 757-822-1111 or visit tcc.edu/maritime.