Op-Ed: It's Time for a Maritime High School
By Ryan Calkins and Charles Costanzo
September 1, 2019
In the next two decades, the maritime industry will add tens of thousands of jobs nationwide.
In trade, fisheries, conservation, transportation and tourism, the Puget Sound region is poised to take advantage of these maritime career opportunities both at sea and ashore.
Our advantages include natural, deep water ports, geographic proximity to Asian trade partners and Alaskan fisheries and tourism, and an existing maritime base of shipyard expertise that is unmatched on the West Coast.
However, we face a significant hurdle. Not enough local workers have the skills we need to expand the maritime ecosystem. A skilled workforce is the lifeblood of any industry. The larger and better-trained the workforce, the faster we can grow. The smaller the workforce, the greater the constraints on innovation.
At the same time, educators are realizing the need to provide career connected learning opportunities for middle and high school students. It’s time to establish a maritime high school in Seattle, dedicated to providing pathways to maritime careers in the trades, as well as to traditional four-year college degrees.
In other industries locally, and in maritime clusters elsewhere, educational institutions such as Aviation High School in Tukwila or the Technology Access Foundation Academy in Federal Way successfully bridge the workforce gap by drawing in new pools of students, providing them with access to the latest technology and expertise, and connecting them to the businesses and jobs that can put their new skills to use immediately.
Over the course of the last year, we’ve spoken with more than 70 stakeholders in workforce development and education about how to expand options for maritime education, and two lessons stand out. First, secondary students are unaware of job opportunities in maritime. Research indicates that we need to raise awareness among 5th through 8th graders about career options. One local leader describes the problem succinctly, “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”
Second, even those students who express interest in a maritime career don’t know how to navigate the confusing maze of qualifications, credentials, certifications and background checks that it takes to become a mariner, an engineer, a welder or a pipefitter. Professional development pathways in maritime are often a complicated amalgam of college programs, trades apprenticeships, service academies, in-house training programs by private businesses, and even on-water nonprofit educational institutions.
A maritime high school would address these problems by consolidating maritime professional development pathways in one place. Dedicated maritime high schools would raise awareness of maritime career and educational opportunities by recruiting students late in elementary school and continuing through eighth grade. Tacoma Public Schools now has three industry-oriented high schools – one focused on the arts, one on math and sciences, and one on industrial design and engineering – that successfully identify and channel students into careers in these industry areas. Part of their success is due to strong recruitment programs to ensure students know that traditional high school is not their only option. A maritime high school would also simplify the complicated landscape of maritime professional development pathways and provide the career guidance supported by maritime experts.
The idea of a maritime high school strikes nearly everyone we talk to as a great idea. The concern is about how to get it done. The good news is that we already know how. In 2007, the Port of Seattle collaborated with Highline Public Schools, Boeing, Alaska Airlines and other private industry counterparts to launch Aviation High School in Tukwila. Beginning with a single freshman class of 70 students, Aviation has now grown into a 400-student high school with pathways for students interested in moving on to college, the trades, or directly into aviation-related careers. Classes are co-taught by faculty and industry experts on loan from supporting businesses. The curriculum focuses on the latest aviation technologies and practices and includes special projects in which teams work together on solutions to real-world problems. And students get outside the classroom as interns with local aerospace companies, further deepening their understanding of a career in aviation.
We have already started working with veteran educators who established Aviation High School, industry experts who wrote the CorePlus Maritime curriculum, and private industry partners to outline the basics. The next step is to bring together the broad range of stakeholders who will commit to supporting this project with their time, with their expertise, and, eventually with their resources. Recently we held the first stakeholders meeting, and an advisory group will be working through the fall to finalize a proposal. If there is any lesson we have learned by studying successful career-connected learning programs, it’s that the involvement of industry partners is key. As we progress toward the goal of making a maritime high school a reality in Seattle, we hope you’ll join us as a participant in this project.
Ryan Calkins is a commissioner at the Port of Seattle. Prior to serving as commissioner, he operated an import and distribution company and continues to support small startups as a business coach at Ventures. He lives with his wife and three children in Seattle.
Charles Costanzo is the Vice President, Pacific Region for The American Waterways Operators, the national trade association for the tugboat, towboat, and barge industry. He is a past President of the Seattle Propeller Club and is the current Policy Chair for the Ballard (Seattle) Alliance. He lives with his wife and two children in Seattle.