Marine industry presents opportunity for students

Algoma and Catholic school board ink agreement

Algoma president and CEO Greg Wight speaking at Lock 8 Park Wednesday morning in Port Colborne.
Algoma president and CEO Greg Wight speaking at Lock 8 Park Wednesday morning in Port Colborne.

One of the biggest challenges facing Algoma Central Corp. in the next 10 years is 50% of its workforce — shipboard and shoreside — will be at or near retirement age, company president and CEO Greg Wight said.
But that challenge is something that should be seen as an opportunity for students, said Wight at Lock 8 Park in front of about 15 Lakeshore Catholic High School students.
Wight was in Port Colborne, right next to Lock 8 and the Welland Canal, to ink an agreement between the company and Niagara Catholic District School Board that will see students from Lakeshore on board Algoma ships for co-op placement.
“This came about through the city and Mayor Vance Badawey. He put us together with the school board to look at a partnership,” Wight said.
“For us secession, and attracting and retaining young workers in a very big challenge and a priority for Algoma. Any chance we can get to partner with a school and potential future employees, we jump at it.”
Wight said students are the future for the company, which has been in existence for 115 years and owns and operates 32 Canadian-flagged vessels and seven internationally-flagged vessels that operate worldwide.
Though Algoma is partners with post-secondary schools like Georgian College, Wednesday’s agreement marks the first for partnering with a secondary school.
“It’s our future,” Wight said.
Marco Magazzeni, the Catholic board’s coordinator of student success, said the agreement opens up a new industry for the board and students in the specialist high skills major program.
“We can start looking at co-op placements for our students.”
Students could end up for two- or five-day trips aboard lakers as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rest of the classes.
Magazzeni said the board will work with Niagara College to develop a dual credit program that caters to the marine industry. One where students can earn credits in the manufacturing sector at the college while still earning their high school diploma.
Marine related skills would include welders, steamfitters, electricians and those in the hospitality program, said Magazzeni.
“There’s a wide array of tradespeople on ships, but we also want to include things like engineering, design, and technology that falls in the industry, too.”
Even before the agreement was signed, Magazzeni said Algoma was already inviting students aboard ships docked in Port Colborne for repairs in the winter.
“It’s such an unconventional industry that no on thinks about. It’s one of the best kept secrets and we’re opening it up for our kids to look at. It’s pretty exciting,” Magazzeni said.
Mayor Vance Badawey said the marine industry is a very important part of the local, provincial and federal economy and the impact it makes is huge.
Badawey, whose family has connections to the marine industry, said there is a lot of opportunity and people will be needed to be captains, deck hands, mates, engineers and cooks in the next decade or so.
The marine industry, he said, helps keep Canada a global leader in manufacturing.
“Without skilled trades and the ability to replenish human resources we’ll drop as a leader.”
The mayor said there’s not enough skilled tradespeople out there now, citing a company in St. Catharines need for more workers.