Virgin Islands program trains workers for marine industry

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The program graduated 10 students last week. Photo by Lori Abbotts

The program graduated 10 students last week. Photo by Lori Abbotts

A new program in the U.S. Virgin Islands is training young people for potential careers in the marine industry.

The Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association introduced a Marine Apprenticeship Program to help 18- to 25-year-olds get a start in the marine industry. The five-week course includes classroom and on-water training, and students complete the Standards of Training and Certification of Watchkeeping.

“The marine industry is a really fantastic economic contributor,” Oriel Blake, director of the VIPCA, said in The Virgin Islands Daily News. “We have about 250 charter vessels based in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The problem we’re having is needing to import the trained crew from the mainland because we simply don’t have enough trained captains here in the Virgin Islands.”

After hurricanes Irma and Maria hit the region in 2017, the VIPCA established the Marine Rebuild Fund — a 501(c)(3) charity — to provide an avenue for youth training and environmental cleanup. The fund is managed by the Community Foundation Virgin Islands, and this is the second year the education program has been offered. The inaugural class had seven students, and in the first two years, the students took the course on a scholarship basis.

The program costs about $2,500 per participant, and VIPCA will continue to seek funding to offer the program for free. The fund also partners with My Brother’s Workshop, offering year-round marine vocational training for at-risk youth in maintenance services.

“We hope to continue to grow year by year, but it is an intensive captain’s training, so it’s not something you can actually do in a large classroom,” Blake said. “You have to make sure you have a really good ratio of teachers to students.”

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