By Tom Peters

Part of Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC), the Nautical Institute, originally started in Halifax in 1872 as the Halifax Marine School, is located in Port Hawkesbury on the Strait of Canso and draws students from all over the world.

The face of the commercial marine industry has changed drastically in the past several years with ships’ sizes of both container vessels and bulk carriers reaching levels not anticipated 30 years ago, and with the constant evolution of technology.

Presently there is a huge shortage of seafarers and according to a 2015 study, there will be an additional 140,000 seafarers required by 2020 for the international marine industry, says Capt. Vivek Saxena. Capt. Saxena, a master mariner and the Institute’s Academic Chair, said the Port Hawkesbury facility is considered one of the best in the country in training seafarers for the international marine industry.

“All of our programs are Transport Canada accredited. We have regular audits and they make sure the school follows all the required regulations, not just for Transport Canada training, but also for international marine training certification,” he said, which means Transport adheres to IMO (International Maritime Organization ) regulations. “The good thing about the IMO regulations and recognition is that our students, when they graduate with a Transport Canada certification, can work anywhere in the world,” on any size vessel with no restrictions or limitations on tonnage.

The Nautical Institute offers diploma programs and recertification programs for seafarers who need to upgrade in their particular area of expertise.

“On average we get about 1,000 students (annually) for recertification programs which range from one day to maybe four weeks. We also have core programming for people wanting to get into the industry,” in either marine navigation or marine engineering, said Capt. Saxena.

The marine navigation program has two levels. In the three-year program there is a work term requirement at sea.

“We have connections within the industry that take students on their vessels. The program requires 360 days onboard a ship. Students leave campus at the end of April (for sea duty) and return in September. So it is a continuous program and quite intensive,” he said. “After three years students can choose to stay an additional year and get an advanced diploma,” he added.

The marine engineer’s program is two and half years with a requirement of 180 days at sea. Obtaining an advanced diploma in marine engineering requires an additional year and a half.

Capt. Saxena said students with diploma programs enter the industry at “the lowest level officer” but once in the industry can rise to the level of captain with additional training and courses.

The Institute also offers a rating level program. Students can take a bridge watch rating which is a 25-week program. It requires 15 weeks on campus for the academic side and 10 weeks of sea time. The program “gets you the bridge watch certificate from Transport Canada, allowing you to work on any commercial vessel,” said Capt. Saxena.

In 2016 the Institute added a new program, ship’s cook. NSCC offers a culinary program and the Institute decided to incorporate a ship’s cook into its offering. Students who complete the two-year culinary program can take additional courses to obtain a ship’s cook certificate.

Capt Saxena says there is always the challenge to attract young people to the industry. “The new generation is not too keen to explore these opportunities,” he said. “There is a push by IMO to encourage youngsters coming from high school, plus we do our part,” he said. The Institute holds a marine day each year and Capt. Saxena visits high schools to speak with students.

“The problem is this industry is not visible to people on land. All these seafarers work in the middle of the ocean. Nobody sees what they do, so youngsters really don’t see how cargo is loaded and how it is taken from point A to point B,” he added.

What is also changing the industry is the length of time seafarers are away at sea and away from their families. Unlike when Capt. Saxena made his first trip at 18 and was away for 18 months, most companies are offering employment with equal time off for time served on board. And advancements in technology have helped reduce the feeling of isolation.

“Every crew member has access to internet, they can make calls with their own cell phones, so the distance away from family is not that great. Also, shipowners realized that keeping seafarers for longer duration on board is not productive so it makes more sense to go see families after four weeks or six weeks,” he said.

Another challenge, said Capt. Saxena, is “we have an industry that is very heavily male-dominated. We are encouraging more women to get into the business. As an industry, it is our responsibility to get more women involved,” and the numbers are growing annually, he added.

The Institute is also heavily focused on getting more indigenous people involved in the industry.

“We have always had a good relationship with the indigenous population,” said Capt. Saxena. “Right now our First Nations’ population on campus is about 10 to 12 people and we encourage more to come into our program,” he said.

Pamela Toney, student adviser for trades and technology and indigenous support at the Institute, said her goal since arriving at the campus nearly five years ago, has been “to have more indigenous students in our marine department.”

In addition to the navigation and engineering diploma programs, the Institute has provided a number of short programs for indigenous students involved in the commercial fishery. Those programs include basic and advanced first aid, marine emergency duties, advanced firefighting, survival craft training, etc.

During the Institute’s annual open house, Toney said she talks with aboriginal students “about job opportunities, to work on big ships and make a good living. We are getting the numbers up there,” she said, adding that the Institute has attracted indigenous students from across Canada.

The Institute has a good working relationship with industry in Canada, says Capt. Saxena. Every March the Institute stages a career fair on campus which attracts companies from across the country that come talk with students and make presentations. “The feedback we get from industry is so positive. Last year a lot of companies who take students said our students were the best in Canada. We are very proud of that,” he said.

Capt. Saxena’s comments are supported by Brooke Cameron, Algoma Central Corporation’s Manager Human Resources and responsible for cadet recruiting. “Nova Scotia Community College is a truly professional organization. The facility provides students with an outstanding educational environment which you can see in the successes of their graduates.  We have been working closely with the college for over seven years now and the relationship continues to improve and strengthen due to the dedication and knowledge of their staff.  NSCC continues to provide our organization with a skilled workforce that will help support Algoma’s continued growth and development,” she said.

Vanessa Suess, Recruitment Specialist for McKeil Marine, added, “We have had a number of their cadets over the years on our vessels and we are always very pleased with the skill level of candidates that come from the program as well as their advanced facilities.”