â€œMany of the men and women who comprise our maritime industry will soon be entering retirement, and it is important that we have the tools and resources in place to bring in the next generation of mariners,â€ Congressman Cummings said. â€œThe Maritime Workforce Development Act seeks to improve the current system and ensure that individuals seeking to enter or advance in the maritime field are able to afford tuition for training programs.â€
Mariners rarely enroll in traditional 2- or 4-year educational programs, instead taking frequent, multi-week courses designed to certify them for specific new qualifications. The unique structure of these programs is not easily served by existing loan programs, leaving many unable to afford the costly tuition.
The Maritime Workforce Development Act would authorize $60 million over six years to create a maritime-focused student loan program through which individuals can receive up to $60,000 in loans over the course of their lifetime. Recipients of the loans would be required to maintain satisfactory progress and be required to repay their loans within ten years. Additionally, the bill would authorize $60 million over six years to enable the Department of Transportation to award grants to maritime training institutions for mariner recruitment, training, and retention.
â€œThe maritime industry is an essential component of our nationâ€™s commerce and economy, and we cannot ignore the growing threat of a shortage in qualified maritime labor,â€ Congressman Cummings said. â€œWe cannot allow this problem to continue to grow as a result of individuals being denied access to maritime training due to income levels, and H.R. 2651 takes the first step in ensuring that we donâ€™t.â€
During a Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee hearing convened in October 2007 to assess the extent of labor shortages in the maritime labor force, the Maritime Administration (MARAD) reported that many members of the workforce are at retirement age. MARAD indicated that the average age of a mariner with a Masterâ€™s license at that time was 51, while the average age of a Chief Engineer was 50. Figures have also shown that nearly 30 percent of those working in the inland towing industry would be eligible to retire in coming years.