It’s been almost one year since the deadly pandemic known as COVID-19 started spreading across the globe and companies are still feeling its effects and will perhaps for years to come. In response, most educators have had to adapt to online learning as an alternative, but what about the crucial hands-on learning experiences offered by so many maritime training centers?
Rick Schwab, senior director of the Maritime and Industrial Training Center at Delgado Community College in New Orleans, La., says, unsurprisingly, that COVID-19 has brought about significant changes for its training center.
“For the first time in 25 years, our entire training schedule had to be canceled for over a month, as the facility was shutdown because of the governor’s lockdown mandate,” says Schwab. “Corporate partner training programs were put on hold, as well.”
During the shutdown, Schwab said the college put into place several safety precautions to ensure its staff and students could attend classes safely. Smaller class sizes, social distancing, temperature checks, mask mandates, and hand sanitizer were put into place ahead of a hopeful return to school.
Another well known maritime college, the Maritime Training and Technology Center at San Jacinto College Program located just outside of Houston, Texas, had its own set of hurdles to overcome despite not enduring a shutdown like the one Delgado Community College underwent last year.
“We left for spring break in March 2020 with the expectation of returning as we do every spring, but we didn’t,” says John Stauffer, associate vice chancellor of maritime for the school. “We had to launch a business learning program with a partnership called Learn America, and that’s how we operated for incumbent workers.”
Stauffer says the school received U.S. Coast Guard authorization to conduct its Maritime Credit Program courses as a hybrid experience, where students have both online and offline (in-person) educational experiences. The school has been operating under a cautious eye and with a hybrid offering ever since.
It’s not all doom and gloom for these schools, though. Both have new and exciting training applications and courses to offer its students in 2021.
Moving Forward – A New Approach
Before COVID-19 hit the country, much of what maritime students learned came from hands-on training.
The Delgado Maritime Center has adapted to the new norm of working with corporate partners and mariners by building a few newly designed programs. Like San Jacinto, the school received Coast Guard approval to create hybrid courses with real-time lectures occurring through the Zoom platform.
“The Coast Guard courses approved for this hybrid learning were Basic & Advanced Firefighting and Advanced Firefighting,” says Schwab. “We also created a new deckhand training program for new hires, and we’re breaking ground on a new $1.4 million deckhand building with a barge set up for training new industry employees, giving them the opportunity to learn the ropes of the maritime industry.”
Schwab says the new building is expected to open in 2022.
As the bulk of courses move online, it’s important that maritime students still have access to hands-on training when possible.
San Jacinto, which was awarded a grant in October 2020, recently announced that it would be launching a new firefighting course in the next month or two using the funds it received. A new fire field was opened on campus, and the school says it will be conducting firefighting training classes off campus at various locations as well.