Become a Seafarer: Fully Funded for Women and Indigenous Learners
The Canadian marine industry is on the precipice of change. As over 43% of the current workforce is set to retire over the next 10 years, and with over 19000 jobs to fill onboard Canadian commercial vessels, opening doors for a new wave of mariners is more important than ever before. In response to this demand, the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) has developed an Enhanced Bridge Watch Rating (BWR-E) program, which is a fully funded tuition program to women and Indigenous peoples. All direct costs associated with the program are covered including tuition, textbooks, per diem, and accommodation and travel costs. The Bridge Watch Rating certificate is the foundation to beginning a career at sea. Students get essential knowledge and skills related to the practice of seamanship, navigation, standards of safe working procedures, and the hazards associated with the marine environment.
BWR-E students onboard during practical training
“The future of this vital sector depends on a workforce built on the diverse skill sets and experiences of people of all backgrounds,” explains Dhaval Shah, Associate Dean, BCIT, Marine Campus. “The greatest potential for opportunities in the Canadian marine sector awaits Indigenous and women seafarers. Both groups are currently underrepresented in the marine industry, but are greatly needed to contribute to the long-term success of our dynamic sector.”

More Women in Marine

The marine industry has historically been male dominated, with women currently representing less than 5% of seafarers onboard Canadian vessels. While recent years have seen progress in the industry’s steps to address gender parity and gender equity, the journey to equal representation is ongoing. “There is clear evidence in support of the many benefits of investing in and encouraging increased numbers of women in the workforce. Companies which support women mariners and leaders perform better. Globally, women have proven more successful in various organization carrying our functions of brokering peace agreements to enacting socially beneficial legislation. The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all,” says Mr. Shah.

The Importance of Indigenous Participation

In Canada, the marine industry and Indigenous communities are closely connected along our coastlines, as marine trade operates on many of the traditional waters of Indigenous peoples. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its call to action encourages Canadian corporations to commit to meaningful consultation with Indigenous peoples to ensure equitable access to education and jobs. “Collaboration helps to manage environmental concerns and mitigate harming the waters, habitats and ecosystems that provide sustenance and economic livelihoods to Indigenous coastal communities. New employment opportunities, and representation and support of Indigenous populations within marine organizations are instrumental in the journey towards reconciliation and lasting protection of Indigenous waterways,” states Mr. Shah.

BCIT’s Enhanced Bridge Watch Rating Program

The Enhanced Bridge Watch Rating (BWR -E) program’s entire cohort is Indigenous and women learners, with a capacity of twelve (12) students. This entry level program has been running for the past four years and has graduated over 200 Indigenous and women mariners. The most recent cohort, which graduated on June 5th, has nine out of 11 students currently working as mariners, while the remaining two are waiting for positions to become available with specific companies. BWR- E is funded by the federal government under the Oceans Protection Plan (OPP) and supports domestic marine organizations like BC Ferries, SAAM Towage, Canadian Coast Guard (CCG), Group Ocean, HaiSea Marine, and Seaspan.

Amberlyn White, a graduate of the BWR-E program, is now based in Prince Edward Island. She currently works as a Chief Security Officer responsible for handling cruise and commercial ships at a local port. Amberlyn credits her time at the Enhanced Bridge Watch Rating (BRW-E) program for helping prepare her for her career, including in establishing connections with industry names across the country. She discovered the BWR-E Program, after seeing a video advertisement while browsing You-Tube.
"It was a turning point that set me on the path to where I am today. BCIT's supportive staff have played a pivotal role in granting me access to resources, scholarships, and networking opportunities tailored specifically to First Nation communities and women's groups,” she says. “The support from BCIT has enabled me and my class to advance both professionally and academically. BCIT's staff is consistent in their effort to create inclusive environments. Everyone in our class knows that, regardless of their background, they are valued and welcomed. BCIT's dedication to fostering diversity and empowering marginalized communities has been a source of inspiration for me, and I plan to carry this ethos forward in my career."
Amberlyn White, Chief Security Officer and BWR-E graduate
BCIT has built a dedicated team of coordinators who work directly with first nation communities and women groups to help grow participation within the Bridge Watch program. The role of these coordinators is to listen, provide support, and build rapport and trust to help students take full advantage of the program and the many career opportunities it brings. BCIT staff collaborate with indigenous groups, including ACCESS group and the Kitimat Valley Education Society (KVES) to visit local and remote communities to raise awareness of the program and recruit potential students.

Online Learning: BCIT Remains Agile in a Change World

Adapting to COVID-19, BCIT introduced a hybrid learning program that is now integrated into the curriculum. The first nine weeks of the program, which are theoretical, are now offered fully remote for learners. Linda Feuerhelm is an experienced boat captain, and currently a core instructor and coordinator of the Enhanced Bridge Watch Rating program. Linda’s unique career background contributes to her classroom approach. A large portion of material learning happens organically through online games and visual cues such as Instagram. She explains:

“A typical day in my classroom starts with an ice breaker question. Throughout the week there are assignments, online games geared towards the subject matter, and Fridays there’s often a quiz block. We lecture and watch documentaries to help teach real life examples of disaster response. We also show Instagram videos that display concepts in 30 second clips. I can explain a concept with a short video quicker than I can describe it, which allows us to get more in depth on concepts. Using Instagram as a teaching tool also allows my students to see diversity within the industry. Those first nine weeks of class always fly by, and then the in-class portion starts. Many students in my current course are from across Canada. Traveling to a new city and not knowing where to go can give people anxiety, but by that time, learners have already made friends with their classmates online, which has helped the program with retention.”

For more information about the BWR-E program, its funding opportunities, and how to apply, visit BCIT’s website.
web design
Join the conversation
Imagine Marine, a CMCF Initiative. © 2022, Canadian Marine Careers Foundation, all rights reserved.