"Can I touch the gun?"
"Man, this seat is comfortable!"
"No way am I climbing up there."
These were a few of the remarks I overheard when dozens of high schoolers descended upon the Vane Brothers headquarters in Baltimore during Port Fest Education Week last month. The Baltimore Heritage Area's Port Fest organization provides opportunities year round for students to learn about the working port and explore potential careers.
"We are very focused on introducing students to the career opportunities in the maritime sector," said Port Fest director Janet Caslow.
At Vane Brothers, students from Baltimore's Maritime Institute High School joined groups from other regional schools to spend a day Vane Brothers' Duff Hughes (blue jacket) and Moran Towing's Paul Swensen (red vest) talk with high school students during Baltimore's 2015 Port Fest. Kathy Bergren Smith photo.exploring the many faceted workboat operations in the port. They raced to correctly don a survival suit and they toured the warehouses and operations center that supply and track Vane's 100-plus vessels. They had free rein to explore vessels from the Association of Maryland Pilots, Moran Towing, Vane Brothers and the Coast Guard, (the boat with the gun), and chat with representatives from each organization.
The day was bright and beautiful on the Baltimore Harbor and the kids were in high spirits. While they were goofing around and being teens, there was a definite sense that, for some, something was clicking. Crowding the Coasties, several students quizzed them on the specifics of enlistment. Vane President Duff Hughes and Moran Vice President Paul Swensen answered questions about the tugboats and suggested various colleges with a maritime focus.
"We have to do this again," said a pleased Joseph Wyatt of the pilots' association. "The kids are enjoying it and we need to introduce this generation to maritime industries."
Meanwhile, during the week, college students got a tour of the Domino Sugar refinery, students learned about careers in maritime security aboard the NSS Savannah and cargo handling and logistics at Rukert Terminals.
With an aging population of mariners and shoreside support, Wyatt is right, introducing high school and college students is the first step toward recruiting them.