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1965 built, US flagged steamship Pacific Tracker lays at the ready in Portland Oregon, picture by Martin Leduc

A fork in the career road: Which path to take ?

Authored by Martin Leduc
August 15, 2013

The problem of upgrading within the Transport Canada Marine Engineering certification system is nothing new to me. I have been toying with the problem since before I even held my first Certificate of Competency. I have not been able to solve this professional dilemma, but it's not for the lack of trying. This article explores the options we faced, and how we went about mapping out our future as a family, with me, working as a Marine Engineering professional.

A proud father of three busy boys
At twenty, family is the farthest thing from your mind, but at forty, its whole different perspective, and the future comes fast
Why consider the future ?

When our young family was stable enough, moving on from the baby phase of family life, my wife and I returned part of our focus on our future, and our options. After all, without a steady work outlook it is tough to plan for the future, and earning a living as a professional seafarer, demands a long term strategy. So the question that's needs to be addressed is: do we want to make our living as a professional seafarer?

I say "our living" because the main issues is that there is only one income coming in. The work done in the home raising the kids is a full time occupation on its own, and not conducive to the typical two income model most of the world is accustom to. We determined that, although quite demanding on our family unit, this profession has the potential to provide us the some financial and social security we need to raise our boys in a safe environment, assuming our expectations are modest.

Over the last twenty years, we have made great investments to be in this profession, and it allowed me to follow my passion. Passion aside, our view of a higher CoC for me, means a broader market appeal. This translates into possible avenue for growth to our income, some work security, and "after retirement" options.

However we had an intense discussion about how little the return on our investment in this profession has been thus far, comparatively to say a "trade" like electrician, and whether we should "cut our losses" before investing even more. "Cutting our losses" - getting out of the Marine Engineering field, was considered, but after such an extensive investment thus far in Marine Engineering, I felt we needed to see it through as much as possible, before visiting this option.

Options for us

We came up with some other options. The principle ideas were to remain in the profession, and try to upgrade my CoC before becoming marginalized by Transport Canada's impeding Certificate of Recognition system, or "old age".

So we develop the following action plans / options:

Quit whining, and do it like all the old guys "did it back in the day"

Not really a practical option in this day and age, especially with our current family unit. Much has changed, the exams have not; but it is a much more demanding system. A busy family life, financial realities, prevents much of the financial and time demands on our family schedule. Still, it's a possibility, but one that will have to wait until family demands subsides - late fifties, but will it be a viable option then? It is not out of the question for my particular case, but it's not an option in the immediate future. I have written further on this problem, you can view it here.

Change the system

The Blue Riband projects, and much of these articles, are just that, an attempt to get a discussion going on the subject of changing the way we certify Marine Engineering professionals in Canada - and also a cathartic exercise for me as a side benefit. Most peers are supportive, but the reality is that very few seem to care. It's probably the grand scale of the problem, like Global Warming, that scares people off. With Blue Riband, I tried to compartmentalize the challenges and ideas, think about how it would work on the big picture environment and present something that is more business model friendly. Alas, the project has failed to gain any measurable traction. You can view the Blue Riband website to see what ideas I offer, and why.

Adopt a different system

The idea was to move out of Canada, and move to a reputable STCW compliant nation, and be licensed under their system. My first choice was Norway. However, the language barriers, and high cost of living, are just too much of an additional burden as a family, so we targeted Australia. This was the most radical option for us as a family unit, but it is feasible, cost effective, in the grand scheme of things. This option also had some social benefits we would have enjoyed. You can read here about this option and our attempts to make it work. Ultimately it is not working for us; a combination of protectionism, immigrations woes, and the usual misrepresentation by ship operators, being the culprits.

Stop thinking so much about it and just treated as a job

After running this non commercial website since 1999, a visitor might start to appreciate that I am passionate about my work. I am not the best at it, but I love to learn and expand my experiences. So this option is a bit difficult for me, especially after so many years of nearly obsessively pursuing the ideals of the Marine Engineering profession. To adopt an "it's just a job" attitude, seems wrong. Unfortunately, this is turning out to be the most practical option for us as a family. After all "the man" gets you every time, the "house always wins" - right? After such a hectic 20 years working in this field, with the potential of at least another 20 years more, one has to become pragmatic no matter how much passion we might have.

Get out of the profession altogether

If Marine Engineering is just a job, then what's preventing me from just taking any other "job"? My skills are certainly very portable and valuable in numerous other "industries" - namely power engineering for the oil sands or mining - the pay is better. Perhaps even a truck driving job would be better. In spring 2013, I had an offer from a Quebec based ship operator, offering $28/hr as Third Engineer on-board a tanker, at those rates of pay, driving a truck in BC pays more, at $31/hr. The requirements for professional truck drivers are much simpler, not dealing with Transport Canada, less demanding or dangerous, and I am home every night.

Above are some of the options we have / are exploring. I wonder how many of my peers feel like this. Marine Engineers are pretty independent and silent bunch. From my experience running a website on the topic, I have learned that although I don't seem to get immediate responses, I later get verbal confirmations and comments on how similar people feel. After all, there are very little differences with us humans, and even less differences as Marine Engineers.

Then again, and in that train of thought, perhaps I am just experiencing what all other men in my age group and position experience: a mid-life crisis... and it sucks. Now, if I only made enough income to afford that Porsche, and the speeding tickets, I could find some solace in this career choice.

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