SMART Institute Conference Focuses on Skilled Professionals

By Joseph R. Fonseca
Saturday, July 05, 2014
Colton Hendrick & Blake Snapp are back preparing for their next journey out on the waters as new maritime interns with Higman Marine Services


After 20 days offshore, Colton Hendrick and Blake Snapp are back on land, preparing for their next journey out on the water as new maritime interns with Higman Marine Services. And they love it.

"It can be tough work at times, but the beauty is seeing the sun rise and set each day," said Snapp. Plus, the money and job security are incentives as well. Both Snapp and Hendrick stand to earn approximately $100,000 by the fifth year of their first maritime job. Also, with many fellow mariners talking about upcoming retirement, the idea of becoming captains isn't far-fetched either, especially when they will hold associate degrees in maritime technology.

The two San Jacinto College maritime students and the region's maritime industry were on full display recently for approximately 20 educators from Florida, Texas, Virginia, and Arizona who visited the Houston Ship Channel for the Southeast Maritime and Transportation (SMART) Institute, funded by the National Science Foundation. The weeklong conference included tours to local maritime companies, panel discussions featuring industry experts and maritime educators, and visits to the Ports of Houston and Galveston.

Attendees came armed with one big question. How will educators like Joseph Redwood from I.C. Norcom  High School in Virginia spread the message that a booming industry, directly affected by other large industries like manufacturing and oil and gas, needs more skilled workers?

"Unfortunately, the majority of our students like to see themselves in a white collar industry, and I explain to them that the blue collar industry is a big part of the white collar," said Redwood, a senior naval science instructor and NJROTC instructor. "We're starting to see the worth of these jobs. Yes, some are hard, but it's not really hard if you enjoy it and it pays well. That's the difference between a career and a job. If I was 20 years younger, I would be taking advantage of these opportunities."

Texas waterways and ports support approximately 20,970 jobs, according to the American Waterways Operators. The state also ranks second in the nation for both domestic and international freight and handles almost 500 million tons of freight shipments each year, 126 million of it is domestic.

"People need to know about the money they can be making in these industries," said Niels Lyngso, director of Maritime Affairs at West Gulf Maritime Association. "The country is moving back to becoming a manufacturing economy. We now have cheaper energy, and in manufacturing the work has become automated. It is a monumental shift from the past."

Lyngso added that with every mariner at sea, nine are working on shore. While industries, like maritime, are in constant need of employees, they also are looking for quality applicants. As with he craft trades, the maritime companies request applicants with more education now more than ever due to technological advances aboard today's ships. They also are willing to pay more for it.

"Our customers demand more today than in the past," said Gordie Keenan, vice president of training and credentialing at Higman Marine Services. "We're constantly working to present the best face we can to our customers. Mariners have a lot more responsibility now, more backup and paperwork, and regulations are much stricter now. Also, everything is done by computer. As a result, we need people with more education, and I look for those who have a traditional education in math and English."

A deckhand can start his or her job making approximately $45,000 a year, but with overtime, bring in about $60,000. Within five years, that paycheck can turn into six figures, according to Dr. Sarah Janes, vice president of Continuing and Professional Development at San Jacinto College. However, if a person chooses to earn an associate degree in maritime, he or she will start off in a higher position with a bigger salary.

"I call this industry the sleeping giant, and everyone better get with it and start taking advantage of what the industry has to offer," said Dr. Janes. "By hosting the SMART Summer Institute, it was our goal to give educators and counselors more knowledge to use in their classrooms to connect to the maritime industries and guide their students into these fields."

San Jacinto College is home to a maritime training program for professional mariners and has awarded approximately 2,500 United States Coast Guard-approved and required certificates. The College also offers an Associate of Applied Science in Maritime Technology for those who are interested in working on a vessel in an operations capacity, an Associate of Applied Science in International Business Logistics and supply chain management, and an Introduction to Ships and Shipping course for students to earn their associate degree in business administration and take advantage of an articulation agreement with Texas A&M University at Galveston to pursue a maritime administration degree.

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