Something our region has a lot of: water. Something else it has: jobs on the water

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Right now, communities up and down the Eastern Seaboard are spending billions to create what we already have.

Deep harbors and technologically advanced seaports are ready to accommodate the flow of huge ships expected to sail through an expanded Panama Canal. Those ships will be a boon for our region’s shipping and ship repair industries. And that means jobs.

Maritime occupations are the fastest growing category in transportation, with a promising outlook for years to come, as many workers near retirement.

Companies in our region have trouble filling jobs fast enough, representatives said at Let’s Grow: The 2013 Jobs Summit, which was convened by Tidewater Community College. These positions include tugboat hands, truck drivers, welders, pipefitters and shipfitters. By the end of the decade, 18,000 jobs will need to be filled.

The average age of those shipyard employees is 54. Wages average $44,000 a year, an increase of nearly 10 percent over the last two years. Some workers can command upwards of $70,000, depending on how much they work. Maritime welders are in particular demand.

The good news is that training and education are available. The Southeast Maritime Transportation (SMART) Center, based at TCC, is the only National Science Foundation Advanced Technology Education Center solely focused on increasing the number of well-qualified, skilled technicians in the maritime and transportation industry.

The possibilities are endless. At the SMART Center, students can work toward designing a carrier, captaining a ship or being a vital part of our nation’s military minus the uniform. The opportunities within the industry provide a good salary, benefits and a future. Entering workers can learn a variety of skills and then determine which area they want to pursue for a long-term career.

It’s not easy. Though the jobs are plentiful, the skills and knowledge required are exacting. And it’s hard work.

But if you’re ready to learn more, start at TCC. The faculty has practical experience, and there are paid apprenticeships at companies like AMSEC, BAE Systems, Colonna’s Shipyard, General Dynamics, Huntington Ingalls and the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

TCC internship programs with the Port of Virginia give real-world experience at one of the busiest, fastest growing port operations in the nation.

TCC also offers for-credit programs in welding, computer-aided drafting and design, marine diesel, industrial technology, maritime logistics, maritime technologies, and truck driving.

Interested in learning more? Visit the SMART Center at www.maritime-technology.org.

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