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Canada tries to combat aging marine shipping workforce with online 'ocean school'

According to Transport Canada, roughly 43 per cent of the country’s marine shipping workforce is set to retire over the next 10 years. (Ocean School/NFB - image credit)
According to Transport Canada, roughly 43 per cent of the country’s marine shipping workforce is set to retire over the next 10 years. (Ocean School/NFB - image credit)

Canada's marine shipping workforce is aging, and in need of an influx of young workers.

The industry and National Film Board of Canada have launched a new campaign targeting 11 to 17 year olds in an effort to spur on more of an interest in the sector as a possible career.

It's called Shipping on the Seaway — a multimedia "educational experience" that's part of something referred to as Ocean School. The online web portal is filled with immersive 360-degree tours of Canada Steamship Lines freighters.

According to Transport Canada in 2023, roughly 43 per cent of the country's marine shipping workforce is set to retire over the next 10 years, including 52 per cent of engineering officers and 47 per cent of its deck officers. That means approximately 19,000 workers will need to be hired over that same time period.

"The real cool thing about my job is I get to drive a great big boat into a small spot, so that's a lot of fun," said Anita Lambe, captain of the CSL St-Laurent freighter, in one of the Ocean School tutorial videos.

Anita Lambe is the captain of the CSL St-Laurent, The CSL Group.
Anita Lambe is the captain of the CSL St-Laurent, The CSL Group.

Anita Lambe is the captain of the CSL St-Laurent, The CSL Group. (Ocean School/NFB)

Crews of up to 20 people are required on any vessel, according to Julia Fields.

The executive director of the Canadian Marine Careers Foundation said it depends on the size of the ship but that's where the number is normally capped at — and that each role is "extremely important."

"Even one of those positions cannot be filled, that ship cannot sail," she said.

Fields estimates that when you factor in all roles associated with the shipping industry — like ports, terminals, shipyards to lawyers and insurance agents — there are roughly 100,000 people within a sector she called "very important to the economy of Canada."

"Our workforce definitely trends older — we really need to bring in more young Canadians into the workforce."

Julia Fields is the executive director of the Canadian Marine Careers Foundation.
Julia Fields is the executive director of the Canadian Marine Careers Foundation.

Julia Fields is the executive director of the Canadian Marine Careers Foundation. (CBC)

She said in an effort to engage young people they felt it was best to provide an interactive experience, like Ocean School, that brings them inside of what it's like to work and live on ships.

"You can travel around, 'touch' different elements and information of will pop up about it to tell you what that is, or a little video will come up and you can press on that, and you can hear directly from the crew members about their roles and what their life is like on board."

Emily Sheepy said before the project began she was unfamiliar with the particulars of the marine shipping industry.

The producer with the National Film Board or Canada said getting to spend time on the vessels and learn about their jobs and back stories was eye-opening.

"I think that we kind of tend to think of goods just sort of magically appearing in the store, ready for you to use," Sheepy said.

Emily Sheepy is a producer with the National Film Board of Canada.
Emily Sheepy is a producer with the National Film Board of Canada.

Emily Sheepy is a producer with the National Film Board of Canada. (CBC)

"In the age of Amazon [deliveries] just magically appearing outside your door … It really gives you a new perspective.  There are so many people who are needed to move goods across the country. There are so many moving parts in that process."

Sheepy said being on the boat with a crew for an extended period of time also gave them a good idea of the support network that's built between peers.

"They're away from home for pretty extended periods of time. But they seemed to do their best, to make a warm environment for each other."

Workers are shown on a Canadian shipping freighter.
Workers are shown on a Canadian shipping freighter.

Workers are shown on a Canadian shipping freighter. (Ocean School/NFB)

According to Fields, crews normally are normally on the boat for five week stretches, then off for the same period of time, but paid for both.

"During the time that they're still off being paid, they're able to go and pursue their passions, whether that's traveling or being with their families."

After a "few months of training," Fields said people can go directly into entry-level positions that pay around $60,000 per year and responsible for duties such as maintaining and docking the vessel, and loading cargo.

LISTEN | Campaign seeks to recruit young people to marine industry: