Friday, August 21, 2015

Workboat Academy Recap

I get occasional emails through my blog asking about my experiences with Pacific Maritime Institute (PMI) and the Workboat Academy over the past 2 years of my schooling and if I felt like it was “worth it”.  So, I thought I’d take some time to recap on my overall experiences so that potential students can get a feel for what to expect and hopefully demystify any of the process.

Although PMI has a few different programs for getting people advanced in the industry, I chose the Workboat Academy Mate Program (WBA).  One of the main contributing factors for choosing the WBA program was that at the time, I was unemployed and looking for a new career.  I had sea time from my Navy days, and could have opted for the AB to Mate program, but it is mostly designed for deckhand/AB’s who are already working in the industry and are currently employed, yet looking to advance.  The WBA program is designed as a starting point for those who don’t already work within the industry and PMI will help you find a company to sponsor you for the 2-years of the program, essentially helping you find a job.  Most students in the WBA program, end up being hired as OS’s or Cadets in the early part of the program, and move up as they chip away at their classes and licensing.  After licensing, nearly all companies involved with the program, end up moving the student into a mate position.  The company I work for (Dunlap), was able to get me into a mate position within weeks of obtaining my license.  So, not having a maritime job prior to signing up for PMI, it made sense for me to go the WBA program route and get a job along with the 2-year structure. For those coming out of the military, utilizing the GI bill at PMI is probably your best bet.

The other program of interest at the time, was the AB to Mate program, which as I’ve mentioned, is designed for those who already have sea time and a company.  It’s a shorter timeframe, a little less money and more condensed.

The WBA program spreads out the classes over 2 years, as well as the payments, into 3-5 week-long chunks of learning.  The progression is set so that you learn a little on various topics, then do a few months of sea time with your sponsoring company and theoretically work on your sign-offs for the topics you just learned.  Each student is assigned a TRB (Training Record Book) that you must take with you on your voyages and get signed off from deck officers along the way.  At the end of the 2 years, you submit your TRB along with your license application to prove that you know the material. 

I get a few folks ask about the cost of the program and I get a few people who don’t understand why it costs so much.  The cost of tuition for the WBA program when I attended, was over $32k (has increased since then), which like I mentioned is spread out over 2 years.  You essentially pay for the chunk of classes as you take them.  Now, if you break down each class that needs to be taken for licensing, you’ll see that they aren't cheap, no matter where you go for instruction or how you split it up.  There are many schools out there that offer the same classes and they all range from $500 on up to $2000-$3000 per class x 2-4 various classes per school phase.  The prices add up.  The WBA program throws a few more classes at you than you may or may not need, but they want to provide you with the certifications that are sought after in the industry and that help you become more marketable as a new hire within the maritime industry.  For instance, GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress Safety Service) isn’t required for licensing unless you’re going to be working on a GMDSS ship, however, by having it under your belt, you’ll have a leg up on the competition when it comes down to comparing resumes on the hiring desk.  If you were to skip the program and take all the classes that you need for licensing, you’ll most likely end up paying more ala carte, than you would be lumping them into one nice easily scheduled program.

Within that tuition, you also get a fair amount of simulator time at PMI and a pretty good amount of reference material and tools.  SIM time, in my opinion, is extremely helpful with helping students see the applicability with the material that they are learning.  I’m a hands-on learner, and no matter how much time I spend in the classroom, I won’t begin to understand the content until I begin to apply it in real life, or in this case, a simulated  atmosphere.  Not only was SIM time helpful, but extremely fun and it gave us the opportunity to see how things work on various ships.  It was very realistic, run very professionally and the quality of the equipment was top notch.  PMI’s has invested a great deal of time and money to dial in their simulators.  They have clients coming in from all over the world to spend time in the SIM modules. I particularly liked the Z-drive SIM because of the maneuverability of that particular type of tug platform.

The instruction was always very professional and as with any school, you’re always going to have some instructors that present things better than others.  Over the 2-years, we only had 1 or 2 that didn’t seem to present the material in a “picture perfect” format.  Not because they didn’t know the subject matter, but it had more to do with knowing too much.  PMI hires instructors from all over the U.S. and in some cases might bring in an expert on a topic to teach the class.  That doesn’t alway mean that you’ll get someone who can convey the topic in a fashion that works well for your learning style.  I guess my point, is that we had to tune out some of the extraneous info from the experts to get to the nuts and bolts of what we needed to learn.  Our Stability class was taught by one of the leading experts on Stability in the country, so he would go on for days about various sub-topics, whereas we only needed to know A, B & C, maybe a little D.  Almost every instructor was top notch, professional, friendly and very likeable.   These are all seasoned and licensed professionals, who either still work in the industry, or who potentially are in the process of backing down and deciding to get involved with the teaching process.  Quite a few of the regular instructors are full-time staff at PMI and wonderful people. No complaints from me regarding the quality of the instruction and or instructors. 

So, to sum things up, I was extremely happy with my choice to do the WBA program at PMI.  There aren't many other options for those wanting a 2-year program in the U.S. that lands you a 1600ton Mate license AND a job to boot.  I already had a degree, so a 4-year school like Cal Maritime, Maine Maritime, etc. didn’t appeal to me.  The WBA program was the best approach for me at the time and I’m very happy that I took the step to make the initial call.

I'm always willing to answer questions about the program, so feel free to contact me through the blog.