Preparing high schoolers for expected boom in local maritime job opportunities

ALGIERS, LA (WVUE) - Many leaders in the maritime industry expect to see more local jobs created with President Barack Obama's commitment to building water infrastructure projects in Louisiana.

One program is dedicated to making sure the region's youngest workers will be prepared to fill the job void.

"In our region, maritime is quote on quote, 'king of the river.' So, why aren't we focusing on that?," said Col. William Davis, USMC (Ret.), Commandant of the New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy in Algiers.

In order to maintain some of the country's most significant ports that are here in Louisiana, Davis said you've got to have the infrastructure, and you've got to have the manpower.

"We need that viable skilled workforce for decades to come to bring all this to reality and maintain it," said Davis.

He looks to cadets of the New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy, or NOMMA, in Algiers, which will open as a full four-year high school for the first time this year.

"I think it's important to start young. It's funny, you would never question in sports why do you start with football in middle school? Well, why aren't we starting with STEM training and maritime training at the high school level? Because a lot of these jobs, they're ready as soon as they come out of high school," said Davis.

They're jobs with significant salary opportunities.

"It took me 20-years to get to be where these kids could be in 4 or 5 years," said Davis.

Sidney Blakemore with Canal Barge Company Inc. hopes to hire some of the NOMMA students as deckhands once they graduate. Blakemore said the deckhand opportunity leads to careers as company leaders.

"It's not too often that you can say, 'hey you can start off making $150 a day getting $26,000 a year, and then within 4 to 5 years, you can become a riverboat captain who is making six-figures,'" said Blakemore.

While the school builds manpower, infrastructure is on its way too with the commitment to Louisiana water projects in the first U.S. Water Infrastructure Bill to pass in 14 years.

Maritime industry leaders said dredging the Mississippi and otherwise improving the waterways will encourage more business and more shipping, which means more local jobs.

"This is going to create longevity in our industry, it's going to continue to allow us to grow," said Blakemore.

As companies grow, and international shipping technologies advance along with the expansion of the Panama Canal, so will the need for dredging, construction and engineering work.

Those are the skill sets local students hope to master at NOMMA and to translate into local jobs.

"It starts all with this little mini sea perch, [it] can be brought to the size of a mini bus, and our cadets will hopefully be sitting there behind the joystick making sure everything's running smoothly under the sea and above it," said Davis.

For more information on NOMMA, click here.

In regards to the president's signing of the water bill, Sen. Mary Landrieu said in a press release:

"The signing of this vital water infrastructure bill is a victory for Louisiana and the nation. Louisiana ports account for nearly 25 percent of the nation's waterborne commerce, and our waterways connect America's Heartland with the world. We now have the green light to maintain our ports, dredge our waterways, and build the critical water infrastructure we need to create jobs and protect the people and communities that power our nation's economy."

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget must approve plans before the Army Corps can move forward on water infrastructure projects. According to a press release, "U.S. Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., announced that she has secured a commitment from Shaun Donovan, the nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), to meet with Louisiana port and navigation officials in Louisiana later this summer."

Follow FOX 8:    

Copyright 2014 WVUE. All rights reserved.