A need, the cooperative efforts of island organizations and an international sponsor. It’s this replicable and simple combination that has recently and successfully strengthened the maritime workforce in St. Maarten. More specifically, eight local teens, twenty- and thirty-year-olds have completed a three-month pilot program in partnership with The K1 Britannia Foundation, Kidz at Sea and the Holland America Line. This Maritime Training Program is now a tried and true template that not only benefits St. Maarten with a greater number of skilled on-island marine professionals but could be duplicated on other Caribbean islands as well.
“After Hurricane Irma, K1 and Kidz at Sea started discussions about how to provide training for youth seeking work opportunities to become immediately employable in the maritime industry, especially with the current demand for boat repair,” explains Tanvi Goklani, communications manager for the St. Maarten-based K1 Britannia Foundation, a maritime organization that provides vulnerable youth with a second chance in programs like job training and, along with sister charities the K1 Britannia Trust and K1 Britannia America Foundation, is named for the famous classic sailing yacht whose replica is currently under construction by the Trust as a future flagship for charitable programs.
“Kidz at Sea is a local foundation that focuses on providing youth with training and opportunities, solely in the maritime field,” Goklani continues. “Out of these discussions the idea was formed to create a training program that would offer these youth certification through the level of Coastal Captain and significant hands on maintenance experience. Robbie Ferron, president of the St. Maarten Marine Trades Association, reiterated the need for this type of participation in the industry. The idea for such a program was then brought to Holland America Line who quickly jumped onboard.”
Participants learned about sailing and boat maintenance during the three-month program. Some were born on St. Maarten, others came to live on the island from countries such as the Dominican Republic and Guyana. The students’ interests ranged from swimming and playing sports such as basketball to music, hiking and camping. Despite diverse backgrounds, all were recruited for their strong interest in pursuing a career in the maritime field. K1 played an active role in sourcing the students, professional mentorship to ensure maximum success and end of course job placement. Partners Kidz at Sea and the St. Maarten Sailing School provided the trainings, course structure, instructors, logistics and planning for post-program. placement. The course was free of charge for the participants.
“What sparked my interest in the course is probably just doing something new in life and going for it,” says 20-year-old Lamar Halley. “The course being completely free part was a very big factor and everyone I talked to about it said it would be a great opportunity so I took it.”
By course completion, the students obtained seven certifications. These included the Small Commercial Vessel (CSV) Boat master Grade 1 license for sailing vessels up to 36 feet and a powerboat endorsement for up to 28 feet. All graduates also successfully obtained U.S. Sailing Association qualifications such as basic keelboat, basic cruising, bareboat cruising and completed a coastal navigation course. In addition, they received the international certification STCW 2010, which is the minimum qualification standards for any on water maritime position; providing an entry to professional careers on island, onboard cruise ships, yachts or merchant ships. They also obtained their VHF Radio license and a certificate for completing the basics of vessel maintenance.
“The most valuable thing I’ve learned so far is how to be a good captain,” says 21-year-old Omar York, who always wanted to become a captain and operate his own charter business. “Being a good captain entails, showing up on time, making sure you hire honest/responsible crew, assign each member to a skill they are good at, have a positive mind set and have communication.”
Students, having now completed the Maritime Training Program, can be and are employed as boat captains – tender drivers and committee boat drivers, and have the qualifications to be a part of crews in vessel operations and upkeep.
“There are many maritime companies and organizations on the island such as 12 Meter, Budget Marine, La Palapa Marina, IGY Marinas, Bobby’s Marina, St. Maarten Yacht Club, Island Water World, that employ persons with maritime training and knowledge,” says K1’s Goklani. “We are looking at doing more training and workshops.”