Fletcher training tomorrow’s boat captains today

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It’s no secret that the local workforce is loaded with boat captains, deckhands and other men and women who make a living in the marine industry.

So it’d only make sense that the area’s technical college be equipped with the latest and best technology needed to train those workers for their career paths that lie ahead.

Fletcher Technical Community College boasts a top-flight marine program – one that evolves constantly to meet the ever-changing needs of the industry and workforce.

Carl Moore, the dean of Fletcher’s Marine program, said the school is unique, offering the latest and best technologies to make sure that local seamen can get employed, stay employed and be safe when on the water.

“It’s hard to look at a job locally that the maritime industry doesn’t affect in some form or fashion,” Moore said. “We know how important this industry is to the area, and we make sure that we keep up with the trends so that we can best prepare our men and women the best way we know how.”

Moore said the beauty of Fletcher’s marine department is that it has the ability to serve anyone in the field – from the beginning levels all the way to captains.

The courses offered are called “fast-turnaround” programs, meaning that one can enroll, do his training, then graduate and move back into the workforce.

Moore said some of the programs can be completed in a few days. Most are done over a few weeks.

“We have a great deal of turnaround,” the dean said. “We have people who come in looking for a certification or a certain license, so it’s our job to provide that training. We have something for deckhands all the way to captains. We are a workforce career path – that’s what we like to call ourselves.”

Fletcher is also a place for mariners to get hands-on training with some of the best, most sophisticated equipment in the field.

Moore said that when he was a young seaman, Coast Guard training required a little coursework, then a written exam. If one passed, he got certification.

But today, it’s more complex and aspiring captains have to go through a series of simulations and skills tests to prove that they’re capable of navigating a vessel through today’s challenges on the water.

Fletcher has both a radar simulator and a bridge simulator where instructors can take pupils into a virtual boat and show them exactly what to do in certain situations.

On the bridge simulator, for example, Moore said mariners are able to learn from their mistakes – something that’s not quite as easy to do in the working world where millions of dollars are at stake if something disruptive occurs.

“The hands-on training is so valuable,” he explained. “In my day, you’d take a written test, then when you’d get out there, it’d maybe be your first time touching [the controls] and actually doing it with your hands. We all know that it’s one thing to circle ‘C’ on an answer sheet and another to physically do something when on the water. The Coast Guard has changed 180 degrees in its training requirements and our simulators show [students] how to be ready for what lies ahead.”

Cindy Poskey, Fletcher vice chancellor of workforce development, said Moore and his staff’s patience with students is admirable – something she believes sets the program apart. She said Moore’s strength is his ability to always be studying new methods.

“Whatever is the latest thing, he’s right on top of it,” Poskey said. “He does an excellent job staying on top of it and making sure we stay cutting edge.”

But no matter how much a mariner prepares, accidents still are inevitable and will happen.

But that’s OK.

Because Fletcher conducts lots of survival training courses, as well.

The local college offers water survival, fire safety courses and other safety-based programs that allow mariners to stay safe should an accident occur.

Moore said studies show that in times of crisis, only 17 percent of workers use their safety training.

“The others are running around and acting on their instincts or panicking,” he said.

By being drilled in the proper techniques, Moore hopes that a lot of those 17 percent are those who were schooled at Fletcher.

“If the worst-case scenario happens, we have to make sure people are prepared,” he said. “We take pride in making sure that men and women are able to get out of that situation and go home to their kids and family. That’s what’s most important.”

Looking toward the future, Moore and Poskey said the low price of oil has some companies nervous about the future, but Fletcher’s mission of providing top-flight training will not waiver.

Chancellor Kristine Strickland said that’s the college’s job – to give the community the skilled labor it needs. Fletcher’s commitment to that, she said, will not change.

“We are committed to meeting the needs of business and industry in the Bayou Region,” Strickland said. “(We) align our programs and efforts to ensure that all members of our community have opportunity to access high-demand, high-wage jobs.”