More females opt for careers at sea

All aboard

(June 17, 1999, Gazette)

By Chris Dillon

This term, 26 per cent of the students enrolled in the first year of the marine engineering diploma of technology program are female. Given that there have only been two female graduates from the program over the last five years, this percentage is significant. Traditionally there have been low numbers of females opting for careers at sea. This is beginning to change.

Presently, there is a world demand for ships' officers. In a 1995 study of world shipping, the International Shipping Federation and the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) concluded that the demand for officers worldwide was 427,000 and the shortfall of officers was 18,000. In 2005, with the demand increased to 465,000 officers, there will be a shortfall of 42,000 officers. These opportunities in the marine transportation field have attracted both male and female candidates.

Because of improvements in technology and the increased use of computer systems, the role of marine engineers at sea has changed. Today job qualifications are focused on educational levels rather than the individual's physical condition. Increased job shadowing and training has provided students with more accurate perceptions of the realities of careers at sea.

According to Aubrey Freeborn, an instructor at the Marine Institute, the stereotypes regarding careers at sea are breaking down.

"Both male and female marine engineers encounter the same stresses as they adjust to their new job environments," said Mr. Freeborn. "Cadets must learn to adopt to confined areas within ships: a situation that can lead to much conflict."

Female students enrolled in MI's marine engineering program agree with Mr. Freeborn about the breakdown of stereotypes.

"Many people don't realize that marine engineering is not just for guys," said Alaina Chapman, one of the students. "There are boats out there that still won't take females. Some are now trying to change there ways."

Another student, Tina Tizzard, commented on how individuals entering the marine transportation industry should be perceived.

"I think the problem is that people look at us as females and not as individuals. If you can do the job as a person, it doesn't matter what gender you are," said Ms. Tizzard. "Today people should look at if you can do the job and it shouldn't matter if you do it in a skirt or a pair of jeans."

Jim Perry, a chief engineer with the motor tanker Komatek, feels that a successful career at sea is up to the cadet.

"Cadets must have the personalities at sea needed to perform successfully alongside others," said Mr. Perry. "They must want to be at sea and to participate in the duties of the ship to gain the respect of their co-workers."

All the students view their career choice realistically and realize the hardships as well as the benefits facing them.

"The lifestyle will be rough at first with a lot of at-sea time," said Ms. Chapman. "But once you get used to it things will not be so bad."

Another student, Nadine LeBlanc, summarized the female students feelings regarding their future lifestyle.

"Part of the reason I choose marine engineering is the time-on time-off lifestyle," said Ms. LeBlanc. "You get the time and get paid the salary to do what you want when you're not at sea."

The female students are proud to be in the marine engineering program and look forward to successful careers. When asked where they would be in 10 years there were a variety of answers but all agreed on one thing: they will be working on the sea.