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Washington Ferries hoping for new hires in training partnership

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(The Center Square) – The Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies West Coast Campus is partnering with Washington State Ferries to offer a new Maritime Apprenticeship program that some are hoping will ultimately help alleviate a worker shortage in the industry that has only grown more exaggerated since the COVID-19 pandemic.

With an initial class of 10 students, the two-year scholarship program that fully covers tuition and paid training is set to kick off in early 2024, with those who successfully complete it eligible to apply for a position with Washington State Ferries as a licensed deck officer with a starting salary range of $96, 408 to $103,292.

“I think it’s a great partnership and a great opportunity to grow qualified career members for Washington State Ferries,” spokesperson Dana Warr told The Center Square. “The class starts in February and we look forward to working with MITAGS in what has always been a great partnership.”

As for what part the program could play in erasing at least some of the ongoing staffing challenges, Darr also holds out hope.

“This one program won’t fix everything overnight and the two-year course work means we won’t see the first graduate from the program for quite a while, but this is a great program and it will definitely help build a stronger workforce going forward. It’s been said we need to be more creative in how we develop our work force and this is a creative way that hasn’t been done at MITAGS. We don’t think we’ll have a problem recruiting students for the program.”

Besides looking for “passionate and motivated individuals,” applicants for the program are required to be at least 18 years old with proof of a high school diploma, GED or HiSET. Proof of U.S. citizenship is also required and applicants will need to take a basic math entrance exam and be eligible to obtain Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) and USCG Medical Certificate as part of the process.

Home to the largest ferry system in the country and the second largest in the world, Washington State Ferries announced in 2022 that it was operating on alternate schedules on some routes as reports of ferries everywhere running behind schedule because of staffing issues made headlines.

“These changes will help offer more predictable and reliable service system-wide in the face of crewing shortages,” the agency said on its website back then. “WSF will attempt to add service when possible and will provide notifications when full service can temporarily be restored to a route.”

All the commotion kicked into high gear just months after more than 400 Washington State Department of Transportation employees were fired for not complying with Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccine mandate, with 132 of the losses coming within WSF. While the governor’s COVID-19 state of emergency declaration from February 2020 ended roughly eight months later in October, state employees are still required to be vaccinated against the virus as a condition of employment.

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