By Alex Binkley

Employment in the maritime sector is low on the radar of most high school students and, as a result, Georgian College in Owen Sound brings a navigation simulator to job and trade fairs to attract attention.

In surveys of what would rank as the top 50 job areas for graduating students, “no one picks shipping,” says Colin MacNeil, Coordinator of Marine Programs at the Owen Sound campus of Georgian College, the only community college in Ontario that offers marine courses. Many students and career councillors “don’t know the industry is there.”

The lack of profile is frustrating because shipping in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway is important to the economy of Ontario and neighbouring provinces and states, he notes. “You can earn a good living working on the Great Lakes in highly skilled careers.

“Shipping is statistically the safest transportation mode and the most environmentally friendly, but people don’t seem to realize there are careers there,” MacNeil explains. “The navigation simulator gives the young men and women a completely different perspective on what is involved in operating a ship. They can imagine what it’s like handling this huge craft.”

The College’s Centre for Marine Training and Research turns out graduates ready to work in ship navigation and engineering both in Canada but also internationally. “We teach them to consider their vocation as a professional career. The programs are quite specialized and quite difficult. The jobs come with a lot of responsibility.”

New ships loaded with technology in the Great Lakes fleet are an attraction for those fascinated by technology, he said. New technology augments old knowledge and traditional skills, which calls for institutions like Georgian College to offer courses in current ship technology and to produce highly skilled sailors. The global economic slowdown has hit international shipping hard and led domestic shipping lines to tie up some of their vessels. That has reduced the number of co-op education placements, MacNeil notes, which is very frustrating for the students. “But they learn to live with the ups and downs of life in the maritime sector,” he points out. Normally the school has about 150 students in courses and on co-op placement, MacNeil adds. Among the popular courses are training for deck crew, bridge officer, engineering and galley and hotel staff, he adds.

Some of the innovations in modern ships has created demand for specialized training such as electronic controls for engines and diesel systems. Another is the introduction of LNG fuel and high voltage electric systems. The drop in petroleum prices has dampened interest in LNG propulsion for now, but MacNeil expects it’s just a matter of time for that to turn around. He notes some American lakers are being converted to LNG, and ferries in Quebec and British Columbia will be powered by the fuel.

Among the other courses are tanker safety, radio communications, maritime security and maritime health and safety. The College has received funding for a Marine Emergency Duties Training and Research Centre from industry and government. In addition, there is a lifeboat simulator and fire training centre.