Plans in the works to open local Maritime Academy
A trade school to train those interested in obtaining maritime or related skills is being planned by the American Samoa Shipyard Services Authority with the support of the Department of Youth and Women’s Affairs.
This was revealed by ASSSA board chairman David Robinson during the shipyard’s FY 2014 budget hearing last week where Robinson also addressed a question from lawmakers about privatizing the shipyard, which was returned to the government two years ago, after being under contract to private companies for many years.
Robinson told lawmakers that the shipyard has been working very closely with DYWA “to set up a definite funding from one of their programs to set up a trade school for apprentices and for mariners - for people who want to be sea captains or first engineers or navigators on fishing vessels.”
“We’re dedicating a facility that we have at the shipyard especially for a training school and we’re going to call it the Maritime Academy. And it will train people in trade-skill, in navigation, engineering etc.,” he told lawmakers. “So we’re in the process of doing that.”
“We have to look at the long term, because alot of our employees have been with us for 20 odd years and some of the welders and some of the painters...are getting a little bit tired. Some of them want to retire and go back to the village and spend time with their families,” said Robinson.
“We need to make sure that we have the right level of skilled people coming up through the system, so we’ve got enough welders, we’ve got enough painters, we’ve got enough mechanics and there are enough people suitably qualified by the Coast Guard to operate the local fishing vessel. So we’re placing a great deal of emphasis on this training,” Robinson said.
Responding to Samoa News inquiries for comments on the project, DYWA acting director Pa’u Taito Roy Ausage said officials of the two ASG entities are currently finalizing the details of the apprenticeship scheme in the areas of welding, machining, mechanical, and spray painting.
In an orientation two Fridays ago, it was revealed that several applicants were also interested in other skills training such as carpentry, plumbing, electrical, and maritime, said Pa’u, who pointed out that the closest maritime school to American Samoa is in neighboring Samoa.
“David and I discussed the need to set up a maritime school instead of sending interested youth to Samoa,” Pa’u said last Friday. “American Samoa has a long history of tuna cannery operations and fishing boat services that have contributed to our economy tremendously for so long.”
“However, American Samoa has a youth population who are interested in positions in the maritime industry and working on vessels, whether it be a purse seiners, longliners, carriers, or other vessels such as cruise ships, container ships, and so forth, but have not been trained,” he noted.
DYWA is allocating some local funding from its FY2014 budget to research this maritime training opportunity with Robinson and the shipyard authority and have made connections with a grant writer to “actively search for grants” to set up a full fledged apprenticeship program in the territory, similar to the federal Job Corps program set-up, said Pa’u.
“It is our collective and communal responsibility to make sure that we are able to develop the blue collar skills of our youth and contribute to the revival of our blue collar workforce,” he said.
“Thus, whether it's maritime, welding, or any skills training, they are all equally important in the territory because all these trainings contribute to the holistic development of our youth and women populations,” he said. “Our history with boats and vessels is living evidence that American Samoa should be the HUB of maritime training in the region.”
During the Fono budget hearing, Sen. Mauga T. Asuega said he fully supports and agrees to having a maritime trade school. He said such training should provide the necessary skills for the local workforce to be employed.
Mauga also said there are a lot of high school graduates who would not be able to make it to college to become a doctor or a lawyer, but the maritime academy should help “our young people” find jobs in another industry. Mauga urged Robinson to make sure this trade school comes to fruition.
Responding to the committee’s question on privatizing the shipyard, Robinson said “this is something that is certainly in the back of our minds, and the board of directors of the shipyard discusses it on a regular basis, but we just need time.”
“If we went out now and tried to privatize the shipyard, we won’t find many people interested, because [the shipyard is] still quite run down,” he said. “So we need another 12 months to really upgrade it and then look at privatization in which case, the government at the time will stand to take in more revenue in lease payments and things like that… At the moment, the government wouldn’t benefit greatly.”
Robinson told lawmakers there is a lot of capital improvements needed at the shipyard after 30 years of the lack of proper maintenance by previous tenants. (See last Friday’s edition for details on repairs and renovations the shipyard board is planning.)