Maritime academies have been in the news lately as governments and shipping companies decide how best to deal with piracy. But these schools, including Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, are about much more than training ship captains.
While the economic downturn may keep MMA from maintaining its record of placing 90 percent of its graduates in jobs within one year, the usual parade of industry recruiters has been visiting the Castine campus, if only to pick good prospects for the time when hiring once more begins. They include boat builders and representatives of the flourishing offshore drilling industry, which is going ever deeper in the quest for oil and natural gas and increasingly requires skilled supply boats and people to staff them.
With another academic year ending for the 850 enrolled students, many other part-time students will be taking short courses under the academy’s Continuing Education program. For example, a one-week Basic Safety Training course trains and assesses the skills of seafarers in personal survival techniques, firefighting and fire prevention, elementary first aid, and personal safety and social responsibility. Other short courses available through the summer and fall include radar training, celestial navigation, visual and radio communications and lifeboat handling.
Like the four-year curriculum, the short courses can lead to Coast Guard licenses and upgrades for able seamen, deck and engineering positions and various grades of captain’s and chief mate’s licenses.
Both the regular students and those in Continuing Education have the advantage of associating with returning alumni, who can steer an interested student toward special work fields and job opportunities.
Richard Youcis, director of career and co-op services, stresses “real world experience,” provided by a required 12-week paid internship at some cooperating maritime industry company. The internship carries academic credit and sometimes has led to a job commitment while a student is still in his or her senior year.
Mr. Youcis calls the academy “a job-related college.” While most of the students are from 18 to 22 years old, often fresh out of high school, about 5 percent are older “nontraditional” students. Some are returned military service men and women, and some are there to upgrade their training and skills.
Others, including some in the Continuing Education courses, are changing careers. Layoffs or the threat of layoff because of the recession has caused some to consider this “retreading.”
A few Maine lobstermen, troubled by the burden of new regulations and the increasing costs of fuel and bait, have turned to the academy for training to enter a new maritime-connected industry or to qualify themselves for a future change if they feel it necessary.
In hard times, it makes sense to have an second string for the bow.