Career exploration day connects youth to opportunity in the maritime industry

Students aboard the SS Virginia V.

This summer, the Youth Maritime Collaborative’s first-ever South Lake Union Day event provided a chance for youth who are participating in internships or training programs to learn about maritime career opportunities, get hands-on experience with real maritime skills, and explore the history behind transportation and industry in the Puget Sound region.

Sponsored by the Port of Seattle, the all-day event featured hands-on activities from SS Virginia V and partnering organizations including The Center for Wooden Boats, Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI), Northwest Seaport, and Puget Sound Maritime. Over a hundred students from six local youth-serving organizations—King County Airport interns, Goodwill Youth Maritime Program, WA-BLOC (Washington Building Leaders of Change), Seattle Skills Center Vessel Operations Program, Port of Seattle and SS Virginia V–split into groups and rotated through several stations throughout the day.

At the first station, students boarded the historic Virginia V and were taken on a voyage around Lake Union. Crewmembers provided narration of departure and docking procedures, gave tours of the engine room and wheelhouse, and performed demonstrations of knot tying and firefighting basics.

A scavenger hunt inside MOHAI was a chance for students to explore the exhibit and learn about local maritime history. The Center for Wooden Boats’ station gave students a chance to row out together on an umiaq (a type of open skin boat, similar to a canoe, historically used by Yupik and Inuit peoples), while Northwest Seaport’s station took students aboard the 1911 halibut schooner, Tordenskjold, to learn about the fishing industry.

Students on the Virginia V learn about the engine’s operations from a crewmember.

The value of this kind of career exploration was clear from speaking with one student aboard the Virginia V expedition. A high schooler enrolled in Freedom School, the student got to know a few crewmembers and had the chance to ask them questions about the ship’s operations. The student expressed a goal of majoring in mechanical engineering at Washington State University: “I don’t really know what I want to do in mechanical engineering, but it’s something I definitely have an interest in.” Crewmembers were eager to answer the student’s many questions about their work, particularly in the engine room, where the student’s interest in engineering was apparent as he asked about all of the vessel’s many moving parts.

On his way out, one of the crewmembers said goodbye to the student with a handshake and a pamphlet with information about the Virginia V’s volunteer program, saying, “Hopefully I’ll see you here in a couple weeks!” Coming into South Lake Union Day, the student didn’t know that volunteering at a place like the Virginia V was an option. Now, he has personal connections with the crew and knows that he will be welcomed back.

That student, and many others like him, left South Lake Union Day with a new understanding of the maritime industry and the careers they could pursue in the field. Over one third of students who responded to an after-event survey said that they are now more interested in pursuing a maritime career than they were before the experience.

Maritime is a huge and vital industry with an aging workforce. In response to this growing need for workers in the industry, the Youth Maritime Collaborative was founded in 2016, comprised of members from the Port of Seattle, regional maritime organizations, youth serving organizations, industry leaders, educational programs and local government agencies. As a team, YMC works to increase awareness of and guide youth toward maritime-related careers through experiential events, high school internships and thoughtful career exploration.

The Office of Economic Development’s partnership with YMC is part of a larger effort to provide opportunities that give young people a window into Seattle’s economy and how they can join the maritime workforce. Employer tours, experiential learning events, and internships expose youth to maritime education and career pathways; events like South Lake Union Day show students first-hand that there are exciting, rewarding, living-wage jobs waiting for them in maritime that they may have otherwise never known about.

Have ideas for other career exploration experiences, or interested in finding out about upcoming events? Contact us at oed@seattle.gov.