By R. Bruce Striegler

Brian Leblanc, Executive Director of the Canadian Coast Guard College in Sydney, N.S. says, “We offer a number of unique opportunities for individuals who aspire to a career in the Canadian Coast Guard. Programs at the College include a four-year officer training program (OTP) where we produce both marine navigation officers as well as marine engineering officers. We also offer training to new marine communications and traffic services officers – they’re the men and women who man our communications and service centres across Canada.”

The Coast Guard College opened in 1965, and also provides other continuing education programs for electronics technicians as well as for search and rescue plus environmental response across the country. Leblanc explains that the College program begins at the end of August, and those students are there for the next four years. “There’s very little down-time at the College, we do have training that runs at all times throughout the year. When they start the four-year training, however, it’s definitely comprehensive.” Courses include in-class theory and training on new navigation and engineering marine simulators. “We have wide-ranging practical training during the sea-phases aboard Coast Guard ships.”

Brian Leblanc adds that upon acceptance, recruits automatically become employees of the Canadian Coast Guard for the next four years and are given free room and board, uniforms, meals and all the materials they need to complete their education. He says cadets who successfully graduate receive a diploma from the Canadian Coast Guard College, a Bachelor of Technology in Nautical Sciences from Cape Breton University, as well as commercial certification as a deck officer (marine navigation) or as a marine engineering officer.” Officer training program are optimized to handle between 45 to 65 officers per year, and Leblanc says recent graduation ceremonies produced 40 grads this year, all now moving to various shipboard positions across the country.

Leblanc notes there is a high percentage of individuals who apply that are not accepted into the program. Over the last five years the College has experienced a decrease in applicants for the Officer Training Program. “The OTP is a demanding and challenging program and only those candidates who are successful in meeting all of the requirements of the selection process are considered for the 45 month program,” he explains. Candidates are selected through a federal government hiring process. All candidates must submit their academic transcripts and are screened against the educational requirements for the program. “The candidates who meet this requirement are then invited to take an aptitude test to determine their aptitude in applied science and engineering. Finally, candidates sit for an interview.” He says that only candidates who meet all essential qualifications are considered against the best fit for the program. OTP graduates are required to provide four years of mandatory service, in return for coverage of their educational costs and related expenses.

Canadian Coast Guard College Evaluation Report

Released in 2012, the government’s Canadian Coast Guard College Evaluation Report says the College’s budget was $11 million annually during the five-year duration of the review. Its largest single expense was represented by the College’s full- and part-time staff involved in the OTP program, accounting for 44 per cent of annual expense levels. Maritime communication and traffic services student training expenses account for eight per cent, and specialized training courses represent twelve per cent of the budget. Administration and operations, campus services and galley made up the remaining 36 per cent of the budget.

The Coast Guard has identified workforce issues as one of its priorities. Like the marine industry in Canada and worldwide, it faces severe shortages of marine engineers and navigators now and in the years ahead. The report notes that marine schools in Canada have a difficult time attracting students, probably due in part to a general negative perception of marine industry careers. It has a graduation rate of 72 per cent for the officer training program and 87 per cent in the maritime communication and traffic services programs.

Brian Leblanc says, “Our biggest challenge right now is francophone engineers. We’re stepping up our recruitment efforts next year in this area.” He adds that there has been an overall decline in the number of applicants to the College. “Back in the 80’s when I came to the Coast Guard, there were as many as 3,000 applicants annually, but that number has declined significantly into the range of 1,000 to 1,800.” Leblanc says that more and more women are applying, and more are also applying for the engineering studies.

Leblanc says that requirements they look for in potential new recruits include having a strong educational background and interest in science and technology. For the navigation program he says it’s important to have math and physics, adding chemistry for the engineering program. “Those with an interest in working at sea, strong organizational and communications skills, along with the ability to be a team player become strong candidates.” Schedules can be a challenge as shifts at sea can be as long as 42 days and relocation from east to west coasts and the Arctic are normal.

Graduates have choices within Coast Guard and other government departments

“Graduating with a degree in nautical sciences as well as certification and a Coast Guard diploma allows cadets to transfer from shipboard to shore duties. Often we’ll see graduates who will take a job on-shore in the Joint Rescue Coordination Centres or work in various management positions throughout the Coast Guard.” Other positions Coast Guard College grads are qualified for include occupations such as marine inspectors for Transport Canada, and incident investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board. Engineering skills are in high demand, including marine engineers, with power companies such as Quebec Hydro or Ontario Hydro.

“We see that the Coast Guard College must change and adapt to changing demographics in order to attract the best, and as long as we keep up-to-date with our programs and technology we feel we’re offering a solid education for an exciting career in the maritime sector. We want to keep delivering good, qualified leaders for Canada’s Coast Guard which will contribute to the high standards of the Canadian marine industry.”