Port Education and Training Programs for the Next Generation

Students learning about the work done by port staff at the Port of Prince Rupert.

Students learning about the work done by port staff at the Port of Prince Rupert.

By Lori Musser

Brute strength and a cast-iron stomach were prerequisites for a port or maritime job in days gone by, but today’s employees are more likely to need to speak multiple languages or hold an advanced degree in cybersecurity.

Ports and port partners, such as those who operate terminals, equipment, vessels and inland transportation, focus on a broad range of careers integral to the working of a multi-modal hub. From landscaper to longshoreman to linesperson, individuals on a port’s front-line can make or break its success. The size and competence of the port and maritime workforce must be adequate now and years into the future.

To be proactive, ports, academic institutions, government departments and others offer programs aimed at cultivating career interest, helping future candidates acquire prerequisites for employment, and honing the skills of rookie maritime workers.

Innovative Solutions at Manatee

Most ports conduct educational outreach programs for the general public. These efforts usually have a primary goal of good corporate citizenship, but they can also ignite interest in careers in trade, transportation and ports.

Virginia Zimmerman, marketing and public relations manager for Port Manatee, said that, during the cooler months, the port offers free open-air tours to share information while keeping tabs on the pulse of the community. Aligning the port with community interests is particularly important in a less-populated region where the port plays a very large role.

Port Manatee also offers several training programs for current employees and partners. After 9-11, David St. Pierre, deputy director of seaport security, identified a serious need for training to help tenants and others meet new security obligations and regulations. The programs, which are certified by MARAD, have now schooled more than 1,000 security officers from across the United States.

The port also trains commercial and recreational boaters. Under a program called Zone Watch, in affiliation with the U.S. Coast Guard, boaters join a community-based policing effort that assists in the enforcement of a security zone in waters near Port Manatee. Under federal regulations, boating enthusiasts require Coast Guard permission to enter the zone. Zone Watch provides a mechanism to grant this access while maintaining area security.

Provincial Support in Quebec

In Quebec, a government-led sectoral program, offered by the Committee of the Maritime Industry (CSMOIM), was launched in 2001 to “support employers and employees by implementing human resources and skills development projects and promoting marine-industry trades and occupations.” The goal of the program is to help companies become more competitive and boost maritime industry job growth.

Serge Auclair, vice president of strategy and human resources at the Montreal Port Authority, sits on the board of CSMOIM. He said, “The CSMOIM is highly respected by key marine industry players, including port authorities, employers, unions, academic institutions and government representatives. This committee truly acts as a pivotal force not only to boost job growth, but also to raise public awareness about marine-industry trades and occupation.”

As a leader in the Quebec marine sector, the Montreal Port Authority has a responsibility to ensure the industry can always rely on qualified labor, he said, adding, “The CSMOIM totally embodies that mission.”

Maintaining Bench Strength in Halifax

Summers bring vacations and occasional staff shortages. The Halifax Port Authority’s Summer Employment Program preempts those staff shortfalls. The port typically hires a number of students representing different disciplines to supplement staff counts by as much as 10 percent.

Director of Human Resources and Administration Joan MacLeod said, “It is a good investment in the community and in the individual students. It helps the port manage workload fluctuations, brings in fresh ideas and offers a leg up to students who need real-life work experience.”

Halifax also has a three-decade old scholarship program, supporting children of the port’s broad maritime workforce, as well as a multi-year international student internship partnership. A current placement matched the port with a Chinese-national student who is now working on a China research and business development initiative for the port.

MacLeod said her greatest concern for future port and maritime staffing is the impact of an aging maritime community. “Secession planning is important to us and to others in our industry. We have instituted cross-training, on-the-job training, career pathing and sometimes a combination of all three to ensure coverage for critical positions up to three years or more into the future.” She added, “We do this to have bench strength going forward.”

Stirring Up Interest in Prince Rupert

The Port of Prince Rupert is stirring up interest in international trade and maritime careers. Each summer, the Prince Rupert Port Authority hires students to work in various departments. Kirsten Dzavashvili, the port’s community outreach coordinator said, “Students will hopefully gain a greater interest in … trade and choose to pursue careers in that field.”

The port offers scholarships for studies related to careers in international trade and transportation, and it recently partnered with a local college, school district and Ridley Terminals Inc. to create two new trade programs in the Coastal Pathways Partnership: a Millwright Foundations Program and an Industrial Electrical Foundations Program. These equip students with specialized knowledge and skills to set them up for long-term employment in their own community.

The port engages in educational outreach at various age levels. Its K-12 resource, The Learning Gateway, is an online learning tool that addresses the themes of Work & Home, Trade, Environment and Transportation to engage students, both locally and across the province, in learning about the port, its role in Canada’s expanding trade with the Pacific Rim, and diverse work and career opportunities. The Learning Gateway is complemented by physical displays at the Port Interpretive Centre that chronicle regional history, from First Nations culture and early trade to various products that move through port facilities today.

Hamilton’s Hometown Partnerships

The Hamilton Port Authority (HPA) has long offered post-secondary scholarships, hired engineering co-op students, and funded original research on transportation issues through the McMaster Institute for Transportation and Logistics. It supports a program called Liberty for Youth, helping at-risk youth develop life skills and chart a course to higher education and employment, and it is an active participant in developing port neighborhood education, employment and training strategies.

HPA does outreach for students of all ages. Its programs range from hands-on demonstrations of how a lock system works, to a first-hand look at a port staffer’s work day. The port also shares information and tackles human resource-related issues with its 130 tenant companies.

HPA Human Resources Manager Sue Auton said, “Working with our port partners, we strategize around some of our biggest challenges, including finding highly-skilled tradespeople and engineers required for the many manufacturing and industrial operations located at the port.”

CBP Explorers Address Multiple Goals

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) offers an innovative program that helps identify potential career candidates and involves youth in activities that help increase CBP effectiveness. Available to young people ages 14 through 21, the Explorer programs in law enforcement and criminal justice provide practical training and hands-on experience at ports of entry.

The program aims to build character, good citizenship and fitness. Following extensive training, Explorers may assist with port passenger processing and crowd control, or even observe and assist with surveillance operations and vessel searches.

Explorers are exposed to federal law enforcement careers, and scholarships are offered from several federal law enforcement agencies.

NOAA Sea Grants

For nearly 50 years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has maintained a Sea Grant program to help create and maintain a healthy coastal environment and economy. Its 33 university-based programs focus on healthy coastal ecosystems, sustainable fisheries, resilient communities and economies, and environmental literacy and workforce development.

Research encompasses marine-related energy sources, climate change, coastal processes, energy efficiency, hazards, storm-water management and tourism. Sea Grant’s mission is to enhance the practical use and conservation of coastal, marine and Great Lakes resources in order to create a sustainable economy and environment.

The scholarships and internships, outreach and trades program, and career advancement opportunities offered by ports and industry stakeholders today are varied. Taken together, they can make great strides toward providing the port talent pool for tomorrow.