With a new federal government designation in hand, Hinds Community College’s role in job creation on America’s inland waterways is poised to grow exponentially by next year.
The U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) named Hinds among 27 academic institutions as its first-ever Centers of Excellence for Domestic Maritime Workforce Training and Education (CoE), to prepare students for careers in the nation’s maritime industry.
For the college, the long-sought designation means the Hinds Inland Waterway Maritime Academy located on the Vicksburg-Warren Campus has a proven track record for successfully supporting this vital industry. The maritime training delivered to local businesses is not only beneficial for Vicksburg and Warren County, but it will also contribute to the growth of the Delta Region.
“We are ecstatic to be recognized as a 2021 Center of Excellence for Domestic Maritime Workforce Training and Education (CoE),” said Dr. Chad Stocks, vice president of Workforce and Community Development. “This has been a five-year process of working very closely with our federal and state officials, as well as our local industry partners. With this recognition, we will also advance our training capacity to produce a more robust maritime workforce, leading to great careers for our students.”
Since 2016, the college has delivered short-term training to fill entry-level deckhand positions for members of a consortium of river barge industries. Expansion of the training for the higher-paying tankerman positions has been a goal of college workforce officials from the start.
After seven days of training, deckhands in the industry can make in the $30,000 range annually with benefits. With successful advancements through the ranks, the earnings potential rises to about $65,000 as trained tankermen.
The designation came just weeks after the Mississippi Legislature breathed life into a parallel effort to find a larger maritime training space near the Vicksburg-Warren Campus. State lawmakers, led by Senate Appropriations Chair Briggs Hopson, of Vicksburg, and Senate Finance Chair Josh Harkins (1995), of Flowood, approved $1 million in bonds for the college to purchase and renovate a 15,000-square-foot former furniture and all-terrain vehicle dealership on Hwy. 27 across from campus to house the program on a permanent basis.
“That facility will allow us to take the next step in the evolution of that program,” said Marvin Moak (2008), vice president of Facility Management and Auxiliary Services, adding renovation of the space could begin as early as fall 2021, depending on timely awarding of design and construction projects to build the center within the walls of the current structure. Some classroom areas are expected to be finished for spring 2022 classes, with a target date to complete all renovations by the end of 2022.
Currently, students in the program have to stay in hotel rooms and be van-pooled to campus for the seven-day training in which prospective deckhands learn the first steps in working on a barge – from throwing and securing a line, operating a johnboat, rigging, among other practical skills. Hands-on sessions are conducted after classroom session.
The course ends with a comprehensive written test. Consortium partners invest $2,700 for each student to cover medical exams, entry level credentials, personal protection equipment, food and lodging.
“But, once we start in the new facility, we’ll put in living quarters and a kitchen galley – as close to a mockup scenario for living on a river barge as we can possibly do it,” Moak said.
In 2019, Hinds trained and placed 170 deckhands with consortium members Golding Barge, Magnolia Marine and Yazoo River Towing. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also a partner in the consortium.