martin's marine engineering page logo A classic looking American lighthouse, signaling the entrance of the strait of Mackinaw on Lake Michigan, picture by M Leduc, August 2013

Transport Canada and the Certificate of Recognition
Pressure is building

Authored by Martin Leduc
August 15, 2013

Transport Canada HQ in OttawaI love what I do, working on ships as a Marine Engineer.

It’s hard to classify one-self, but judging from recommendations I have received fairly consistently over the years, I say I’m certainly “average” in my work performance. With liking what I do, and being somewhat successful, it’s little wonder that I wish to progress in my craft, move up the ranks, and achieve a higher Certificate of Competency (CoC).

However, “moving up” under Canada’s regulatory regime is fraught with “landmines” and numerous obstacles. The sheer size of the project to upgrade’s one CoC, is exhaustive to think of. I have written an article detailing my observation of the numerous problems with it, which you can read here. Upgrading a CoC in Canada is a very big problem that affects all Marine Engineers, and has resulted in a large amount of capable Engineers not being able to jump through onerous regulatory hurdles, and move up the rank ladder, resulting in a “ticket vacuum” on board commercial ships operating in Canada.

Uneven playing field

The certification system in Canada is not the same as other countries. As a result, I propose that a large majority of Canada’s future Certificate of Competency, Class 1 and 2 at first, will have been trained abroad, migrating into the Canadian licensing system at the upper certification levels. I believe the writing is on the wall, this stream of certificate issuance - the recognition of foreign issued Standards of Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) compliant CoC - will be how Canadian ship operators will access nearly all of their current, and future senior Engineering Officer needs onboard.

As such, there is increasing pressure on Transport Canada to adopt the Certification of Recognition model, used by many nations, guided by the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) STCW10. I think this is the inevitable, and is in my view, logical. I would expect it to be the policy of Transport Canada in the very near future. You can read yourself what the STCW2010 (Manila Convention, page 12, Regulation I/10), to which Canada is signatory, says about this subject.

The problem with this plan, is that I am not seeing any changes to the way Canadian trained engineers are certified, which is far more burdensome than other nations issuing the same Certificate of Competency. Another words, I have no problems competing with foreign trained engineers, but please Transport Canada, give me an even ground to compete on!

Kicking the can down the road

It is not hard to imagine that a Certificate of Recognition is to the benefit of Canadian ship operators, for the next 5-10 years perhaps. During that time, operators will have access to STCW CoCs, that are very motivated to succeed in their new country of immigration.

When you start a business, you are committed to getting it off the ground, and moving an entire family a long distance is no different of an enterprise. This means that these immigrants to Canada will take any work, subpar conditions, and subpar wages, to make their “business case” succeed; I would too. This is a temporary blessing for ship operators; they will have access to a “pliable” workforce holding Transport Canada approved senior Certificate of Recognition – which is what they need to run their fleets – for now anyways.

The lack of changes to the Canadian CoC system is worrisome, and will be again the problem down the road, for these immigrants, once, they too, want to move up the ranks and / or get a full fledge Canadian CoC. Another words, we would just be “kicking the can” down the road; the same problems with Transport Canada “clunky” certification process that plagues Canadian trained Marine Engineers now, will also affect foreign trained ones, further down the line.

The impacts

In the meantime, it will be even more challenging for the “locally” trained Marine Engineers, who will not be able to upgrade, because it is just not worth the investment. After all, why would a fifty year old 3rd Class Engineer spend two years of intense family disruption, great financial burden, “just” to get a 2nd Class CoC, when there will be downward pressure on 2nd Class wages, because of a temporary influx of “young” Certificates of Recognition around?

I anticipate we are on the cusp of Transport Canada issuing Certificate of Recognitions as a matter of routine. This will only be a temporary relief to the shortage of Marine Engineer for seagoing roles in Canada. Until industry and Transport Canada address the underlying issues, there will always be pressure to find qualified engineers to sail ships in Canada. Transport Canada needs to streamline their certification process to the equivalent to other nations issuing CoCs. Industry, for its part, needs to increase their remuneration packages for engineer, to make the arduous process of upgrading their CoC, a worthwhile investment.

Of course, point of view hinges on the fact that the Government of Canada is indeed interested in keeping a "Canadian" fleet and its expertise; which from the signals I see from Ottawa, this is not an identifiable priority.

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