Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fidley Watch - Warrior to Watchstander

By Chris Philips, Managing Editor,

Richard Berkowitz, Director of Operations of the Transportation Institute (www.trans-inst.org), recently made us aware of a particularly difficult workforce development issue – one that should have the attention of every legislator of every coastal state. Berkowitz recently drafted a policy briefing at the request of industry members who sought a more coordinated effort to influence policy makers.

As Mr. Berkowitz notes, US-flag maritime interests have long made a priority of recruiting and hiring sea service veterans with maritime-related watch-standing capabilities and ratings. Unfortunately, the requirements of the STCW as promulgated by the USCG make it difficult to place these sea-service veterans.

The STCW has created numerous barriers for vets to transition into the commercial sector while retaining the ratings they achieved in the military, and most veterans know little about the commercial maritime industry.

Berkowitz says one senior industry leader described the problem as…”A Boatswain’s Mate in the Navy with 20 years of seagoing experience presently can’t get a job on a tug boat because he doesn’t have an AB ticket. Officers with years of sea time don’t even have 3rd Mate licenses.”

Among the problems are the fact that US military education, training, experience are not recognized as meeting STCW and USCG certifications, even though they do meet the majority of the requirements.

Berkowitz says some progress has been made in recent months, but much more needs to be done. “The economy, sequestration, graying of the maritime workforce, employment bonanza in the Gulf of Mexico, and increase in the domestic oil trade have created a unique opportunity for our sector to make a more pronounced effort to actively recruit veterans for employment in in the US-flag maritime sector.”

The Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee (MERPAC) has made several recommendations to address the problem. One of these is the suggestion that the Coast Guard authorize military commanding officers to assess rating forming part of an engineering watch (RFPEW) and rating forming part of a navigational watch (RFPNW) competencies. Another suggestion is to encourage the military to utilize civilian industrial terminology whenever possible, and to offer professional credentialing pathways throughout the crewmember’s military careers.

Berkowitz says the best and most immediate path to accomplish these goals is to remind Congress members of industry’s desire to hire qualified veterans, and how leadership of the sea services can help facilitate the transition of separating vets with deck and engine competencies into the US-Flag Merchant Marine.

With President Obama’s strategy of downsizing the military, more qualified but un-credentialed mariners will be looking for work. It currently takes months for a Navy or Coast Guard seaman to even get a sea service letter from their respective service. A qualified mariner who has served his country for 20 years should be able to step from a Navy or Coast Guard vessel directly onto a commercial vessel. That he can’t is absurd.