Funding advances for maritime training program

Published 6:49 pm Tuesday, September 27, 2022

An Old Dominion University training program based in the city is in line to receive $643,000 in federal funds to align training with the needs of maritime skilled trades.

In a recent news release, Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine said the funds for the Maritime Skilled Trades Alignment Project (MSTAP) at ODU are part of the Senate appropriations bill.

The Maritime Skilled Trades Alignment proposal addresses differences in how skilled trades professionals are assessed and defined by various construction, maintenance, modernization, and repair activities, said R. Michael Robinson, Ph.D., in a recent interview. He serves as VMASC Chief operations officer, executive director of Hampton Roads Maritime Industrial Base Ecosystem Virginia Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Center at ODU.

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“For example, one might expect a machinist qualified to a certain level to be able to complete the same tasks at a remote facility as done at the home site, but this is usually not true,” he said in an email interview. “Instead, if a worker is temporarily assigned to another activity, he or she is much more likely to spend the first days or weeks receiving training to meet the receiving site’s requirements. This is obviously inefficient; it is also unnecessarily expensive.”

Robinson said the workers receiving the training are not contributing to production and they are costing money for lodging and other expenses while away from home.

Though such differences exist between both commercial and public activities, the proposed work that has received support from Virginia’s senators will first look at the qualifications for public shipyards and activities only with one to two trades used in a pilot study,” he said.

“We will seek to identify or establish common certifications for these trades and align curriculums across the different training organizations supporting certifications,” Robinson said.

The root cause of the problem addressed is that the existing maritime trades training pipeline has inefficiencies caused by latency of existing programs, many of which lack appropriate curriculum elements, he said. Therefore, it fails to deliver the required competencies.

“This pipeline does not provide the proper knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) to support the private and public workforces needed to deliver naval shipbuilding, repair, maintenance and modernization in the 21st century,” byRobinson said.

This proposal includes participation from industry and educational professionals with commitments to contribute from nearly 20 individuals.

An industry team will assess trade requirements across Hampton Roads to develop a comprehensive competency list to support a given trade (e.g., welding) across public and private workforces, including the identification of perceived and real restraints and constraints, Robinson explained. “A key product from this group will be to provide the education experts the curricula development requirements to support delivery of the identified competencies, including the optimal facility and training equipment requirements needed,” he said.

The educational group will develop the curricula and the associated optimal pipeline from middle school, high school, to community college, and through to employment, according to Robinson.

“Beginning this pipeline is critical to success,” he said. “If the nation’s maritime industry – in fact if the nation’s advanced manufacturing industry – is going to succeed long term, we need to begin early. We deprive many students of opportunities provided in high paying, in-demand professions by not introducing them to skilled trades until at or near the end of high school. Another advantage of starting early is that students will have time to gain professional certifications by the time they enter the professional environment, increasing their earning potential and productivity.”

MSTA will result in more highly trained, well-paid professionals entering the workforce with a standardized, accepted résumé increasing their individual marketability and maritime industry efficiency, he explained.

Warner and Kaine said in their joint news release that they successfully secured nearly $135 million in federal funding for Virginia in pending government funding bills for Fiscal Year 2023. The next step for the legislation is a markup and advancement by the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is expected later this year, followed by Senate floor consideration.

“I’m proud to have worked to secure these investments for communities all throughout Virginia,” said Warner. “By propelling impactful local projects, these dedicated federal dollars will further build on the progress we’ve made through the bipartisan infrastructure law and the many rounds of COVID-19 relief funding authorized by Congress. I look forward to seeing these diverse projects generate jobs, support Virginia’s tourism economy, make neighborhoods safer, and bring communities together.”

“The annual budget is always an important opportunity to fight for Virginia priorities and America’s leadership around the world—and I’m pleased with how that effort is shaping up for the upcoming Fiscal Year,” said Kaine. “I will keep fighting to keep the many critical components of these bills intact as we get this budget across the finish line—from keeping Virginia communities safe from gun violence, COVID, and future health crises; to addressing food insecurity and the root causes of migration.”

As part of last year’s budget process, the Senate revived a process that allows members of Congress to make Congressionally Directed Spending requests, otherwise known as earmarks, in a manner that promotes transparency and accountability. This process allows Congress to dedicate federal funding for specific projects.