As Alaska’s largest private employer, the maritime sector is arguably one of the most important and productive industries in the state. According to the 2014 Alaska Maritime Workforce Development Plan, more than 70,000 people across the state work within the scope of the maritime sector, including vessel repair and maintenance, boat building, commercial fishing, marine research and marine transportation.
Homer is a community uniquely poised to help individuals pursue entry into or improve their knowledge of this industry. Kachemak Bay Campus offers non-credit courses through its Marine Technology job training program to help fulfill the need for a greater number of trained individuals in both the commercial and recreational maritime sectors. These classes are open to anyone who wishes to enter a maritime trade or wants to keep up with the latest developments in marine industries and technology.
“We’re trying to target high school kids, unemployed people and people who want retraining because they’re getting into another line of work,” said KBC campus director Carol Swartz. “The local businesses here are growing and they need people to hire. We’re training Homer people for these jobs.”
The primary goal of the Marine Technology program at KBC is to prepare residents for the maritime workforce. Since last fall, for example, five people have been hired by the Alaska Marine Highway.
Other Homer businesses also see the benefits in a local job training program. Matt Alward, owner of Bulletproof Nets, worked alongside Swartz and state agencies as an integral part of the promotion and development of the program.
“We owe a lot to him,” Swartz said. “He’s been behind the scenes promoting, saying the college should provide more training for locals. He’s still involved with some of the committees.”
Many students who have taken welding and boat building classes at KBC are now employed with businesses such as Bay Welding.
“Bay Welding is certainly a supporter of the marine trades in Homer and specifically the work KBC is doing with the Marine Technology program,” wrote Eric Engebretsen, general manager of Bay Welding. “We employ over 30 people, all working in a variety of skilled trades specific to the marine industry and boat building, and base level skills help these people get in the door to a job with lots of long term growth.”
The courses at KBC offer hands-on training and practical experience in a classroom setting, often using physical props to prepare students for real-life situations in a marine trade. These classes also give students the benefit of gaining the knowledge they need to more easily enter the maritime workforce.
New this year are United States Coast Guard (USCG)-approved classes such as Able Seaman and Master 100 Ton/Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessel (OUPV). Students can take these courses to obtain the Able Seaman Merchant Mariner Credential or a 100 Ton USCG license or OUPV license.
The Master 100 Ton/OUPV course, taught by Janel Harris, will be held Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from March 2-11 and March 23 to April 1. Registration for this class ends on Feb. 27. The Able Seaman course, also taught by Harris, began Feb. 5. Registration for this course is closed for this semester. Individuals interested in taking this course should contact KBC for future availability.
Also new this year is Refrigerated Seawater (RSW) Systems, taught by Dan Mielke. It will be held March 23-25. RSW systems are onboard refrigeration systems that enhance the quality of fish after they have been caught. This class will familiarize students with the operation and maintenance of RSW systems.
KBC continues to provide courses for occupation skills and vessel repair and maintenance. Basics of DC Electricity will be taught by Dan Cole Tuesdays and Thursdays from March 1-8 and March 20-22. Students will learn basic troubleshooting and theory of direct current systems on vessels.
Navigating Kachemak Bay will be taught by Anna Borland-Ivy Tuesdays and Thursdays from March 27 to April 12. Students will learn essential boating skills to safely explore Kachemak Bay, including navigation, anchoring, rules of the road, charting and basic seamanship.
Deckhand Skills, also taught by Borland-Ivy, will be held on Saturdays from March 31 to April 14. Students will learn practical skills for becoming a deckhand on any vessel, including safety, survival skills, line handling, knots, gear, basic navigation, crew roles, helm, wheelhouse expectations and more.
Outboard Engine Maintenance will be taught by Dan Cole on April 20-22. Students will learn the basics of outboard engine maintenance and operation.
KBC has been offering marine technology classes for 20 years, according to Swartz. However, the comprehensive program as it exists today is a result of the Alaska Maritime Workforce Development Plan and arose out of a need to fill a gap in training. The goal of the development plan is to “enable Alaska’s maritime sector to remain economically vibrant, ensure that Alaskans are qualified to fill these skilled and well-paid positions, and increase the number of Alaskans in this workforce.”
“My goal is to do that in Homer by providing training classes in USCG entry-level certification as well as in vessel repair maintenance,” Swartz said.
In addition to helping facilitate the program, KBC Marine Technology Coordinator Jesus Trejo helps locals pursuing USCG credentials to navigate the regulation system and works as an adviser for people seeking maritime jobs.
“We’ve really served as a…counseling resource for the application process to the Coast Guard,” Trejo said.
Swartz and Trejo are working to expand the number of USCG licensure classes offered at KBC and have proposed to add Basic Training and Radar Observer to the program. The Able Seaman and Master 100 Ton/OUPV are “hopefully the first of many,” said Trejo.
Advance registration for non-credit Marine Technology classes is required. To register, call Kachemak Bay Campus at 235-7743, go online at https://kbcnoncredit.asapconnected.com, or stop by the campus’s registration desk in Pioneer Hall.
If a prospective student cannot afford the fee associated with the course they wish to take, financial assistance is available. The Homer Marine Trades Association has partnered with the Homer-Kachemak Bay Rotary Club to provide a stipend. The application can be found at https://www.homermarinetrades.com/scholarships.html.
There is also a Maritime Studies scholarship available through the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council. The application can be found at https://www.homermarinetrades.com/scholarships.html.
Delcenia Cosman is a freelance writer living in Anchor Point who attends Kachemak Bay Campus.