In the midst of a contested election year and the uncertainties of the coronavirus, two bills that would benefit maritime education are making their way through Congress.
On July 1, Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) introduced H.R. 7456, which would establish a $200 million fund to support grants to invest in domestic maritime workforce training and education at higher education institutions. Garcia’s district includes San Jacinto College, whose Center of Maritime Excellence is a leading college-level maritime training program.
On the same day, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) introduced HR 7464, which would direct the Secretary of Transportation to establish a merchant mariner education loan program that would make available up to $30,000 a year to qualified students. It is dubbed the Elijah E. Cummings Merchant Mariner Workforce Development Act in honor of the late congressman, a strong supporter of the merchant marine and former member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.
The two programs would do different things. The first would make grants to institutions, for designing programs to fill in gaps in maritime workforce education and training. The bill specifies that the applicants would have to identify which gaps they are filling, after research.
The second bill would make individual education loans available to students.
Both bills have yet to move on to the full House. It’s too soon to say whether or not either of these bills will become law. Both are steps in the right direction.
As Rep. Anthony Brown, (D-Md.), a cosponsor of Garcia’s bill, put it, “Maritime workers help power our economy … Training and fostering the next generation of the maritime workforce is critical to keeping this country moving in the 21st century. By tapping into the resources at community and technical colleges we can ensure this career path remains an attractive and affordable opportunity for young people.”
As the average age of experienced captains and pilots continues to increase and retirements loom, we need more measures like this, both to encourage talented young people not from traditional industry backgrounds to consider a fulfilling and rewarding career on the water, and to encourage institutions to develop and expand programs for them.