Is Transport Canada going Plaid?

When I made up this graphic from a Jaws movie poster, it was to sort of characterize the coming of STCW2010; I knew it was a provocative, but as it turns out, quite accurate. The new requirements for retraining are significant, but hit every seafarer around the world equally.

In addition to these new requirements, Transport Canada (TC) looks set to bring about some major changes to the Marine Engineering certificate of competency program. Essentially, TC is throwing out the system it has used for the last 50 years, and bringing in what has become the International Maritime Organization (IMO) norm.

No more exams?

The IMO  norm is an approved Engineering Cadet Program, which sees a three to four year education period, mixed with sea stages, as the sole training and vetting for engineering officers. After that, a cadet progresses through the licensing system, upon the accumulation of experience, without a need to redo exams or other memory test that Canada has (had) till now. Any additional vetting requirement, or “bridge” training, will take place in an approved institution, and those “block credits” will apply to license needs, instead of taking an exam.

I have been advocating (in my limited ways) for these changes for many years, as the “old” CoC licensing was a burdensome, irrelevant, and convoluted system that became a major roadblock in career advancement. The old system, and its many hodgepodges attempt to marry it with the developing IMO system, over the last 40 years, has led to a major shortfall of Marine Engineering manpower in Canada. The IMO system has been widely accepted all over the world,  Canada would be among the last to adopt it.

Its about time

The lumbering giant Spaceball 1 ship goes “Plaid”, when trying to catch up to the Winnebago in Spaceballs, one of the funniest movies ever.

That is of course if they do adopt it fully. I am not privy to what TC does, and they are notoriously tight lipped about discussing changes openly, usually springing the changes, and then reacting to the reactions. But based on discussion among professionals, it seems we can expect new set of “Personnel Regulations” to be issued late in the summer of 2017, or in the fall, and we can expect them to be similar to the IMO model.

It remains to be seen exactly how far the regulations will go to adopt the IMO model, and how much TC will keep of the old system. But one thing is for sure, it will be a considerable change and will present some challenges to new, and current Marine Engineering professionals, as well as Canadian ship operators.

Impact on workforce and wages

The fear of some established professionals, is that this will mean a flood of new entrants into the profession, which will make wage gains an even harder prospect. In previous posts, I explored the impacts of the new entrants and “boomers” in the current workforce, and its impact on wages. A surge of new senior tickets might seem a boon for ship owners, but I am not entirely sure it will be driving down wages. A “surge” may present some real challenges on the safe and efficient operations of ships, using people with little or no experience, in senior roles. However, there is no choice left; something drastic has to be done.

There will be a need for a quick succession of the new engineers into roles vacated by a large portion of the workforce retiring, and it will cause some friction among the more experienced, but lower classed engineers. I think with the limited training output and the major challenges a position as Marine Engineer at sea brings – few are actually cut out for the position, I am not excessively concerned about a flooding of the job market by young engineers. Undoubtedly, there will be a realignment of the workforce, and it will be disruptive, to some degree – but this is happening across North America, in every sector of the economy to some degree.

Equality with international peers

I think Canadian talent is there, and a relatively quick career progression will put us on par with our international peers. Internationally, the profession is suffering from a shortfall as well, which has been driving wages steadily up over the years. With Canada’s stagnate wages of the last 30 years, this will present a great opportunity for Canadians to join the international fleet as peers, especially in the specialty areas such as offshore, cruise and yacht sectors.

Canadian income taxes will continue to be a major hurdle, in parity with our international peers, but with the globalization trend, residency can become fluid proposition for young professional with the right attitude, and now, the right certification. These people will soon to be able move up the mystical Canadian Certificate of Competency ladder without having to have gray hair, and gain parity with international peers.

I think a fresh crop of Canadian Marine Engineers is a good thing, but I am not under any impression that it will be smooth and predictable transition. Overall, it will be good to get some homegrown talent back into policy and senior operational roles, somewhat absent for a very long time.

As a treat, here’s the clip from Spaceballs

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