Students look to sea for job opportunities

  • Freshmen Calvin Anderson and Andy Super try on commercial fishing gear brought to the Focus on Learning class by Captain Ian Pitzman.-Photo by Anna Frost, Homer News

Since one of Homer’s main industries takes place on the water, it follows that the high school would put a spotlight on the marine trades. From students who spend the summers fishing with their families or working a summer job on a boat, to those who have their sights set on an ocean-related career, the marine trades Focus On Learning series prepares students for success at sea.

“The marine trades is one of the bigger industries in Homer, so if you want to stay in Homer, that’s a great job, everything from welding to plumbing, you name it. And there’s close to a hundred small companies that work in marine trades in the Homer area. It’s vital,” said Homer High School Principal Doug Waclawski.

Homer High teachers Monica Stockburger and Reba Temple work together to arrange the FOL topics and speakers for the students. Stockburger wrangled Matt Alward, chair of the Homer Marine Trades Association’s workforce development committee, into helping organize speakers for the courses, Alward said.

“Monica Stockburger did a lot of work to get us into the schools and to get us off our butts. And with her help, we recruited Reba Temple who is a teacher and is a commercial fisherwoman in the summer,” Alward said. “Monica basically forced them to let us in and them told me, ‘This is happening. You better find me some people to teach the classes.’ And I found that people were responsive and excited to teach the kids about the different opportunities.”

As a major industry in Homer, the marine trades have a need to continue growing their workforce, Alward said. 

One of the goals is to pull from the existing labor pool in Homer instead of advertising for workers to move to Homer. 

“We’d much rather give people from our community these well-paying, well-respected jobs than look outside the community,” Alward said.

The six-week series takes place twice — once in the fall and once in the early spring. Each class occurs one time each week for 45 minutes and covers a wide range of topics, including the Homer Harbor, CAD design, boat safety, nets and the experiences of a fishing captain and his crew. The marine trades are a broad category, ranging from fishing to welding, plumbing and carpentry. 

Each class provides students with an introduction to knowledge that they can further explore if interested. The goal of the FOL series is to provide students with contacts within Homer’s marine industries in a way that is low-pressure for high school students, Stockburger said. It can be daunting for a student to cold-call a potential job opportunity, so the class is one way for students to connect with those in fields they would like to explore.

Though the classes aren’t usually packed with students, those who attend are fully engaged, Temple said. In addition to teaching at Homer High School, Temple is involved in the marine trades as a commercial salmon fisherman during the summer.  She enjoys seeing the students connect with adults currently working in the marine trades.

“The group that’s there is a core group that seems really interested. It seems like all the kids at some point in their lives will be involved in some sort of marine trade,” Temple said. “Some kids didn’t even know it was an option, like, ‘Oh ,whoa, this is a job you can have?’ The kids seem interested in learning about what they could be pursuing.”

Freshman Calvin Anderson is looking at a future in commercial salmon fishing, following in his family’s footsteps.

“My dad’s a commercial fisherman and I decided it would be best for me to take these marine trades,” Anderson said.

Captain Ian Pitzman of Fortune Sea, a boat management company in Homer, helps students network by introducing them to captains who may hire them for future fishing jobs. At his FOL session, he passed out cards and encouraged students to connect with him. He got involved at the school a couple years ago when Temple first asked him to participate in an FOL on fishing, and now is the capstone to the marine trade series.

“Fishing is one of my favorite topics, so it’s easy to talk about. I’m enthusiastic about it and I like sharing it. Growing up in a town like Homer the commercial fishing industry is one of the legs of our little economic stool here,  so there’s a lot of opportunity in the marine trades and particularly the kids coming out of school and even going to college, commercial fishing offers summertime jobs. My daughter’s a junior and fishes with me in the summer. I like making those connections,” Pitzman said.

Anna Frost can be reached at anna.frost@homernews.com.

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