‘We Work The Waterways’ Organization Begins Workforce Outreach MissionView Source
The past couple of months have been a whirlwind for Errin Howard. For close to 17 years, Howard led RiverWorks Discovery, developing that organization’s collaborative outreach program, Who Works the Rivers. Then, in December of last year, Howard announced a big change.
She left RiverWorks Discovery to become the career opportunities program director for Inland Rivers, Ports & Terminals Inc. (IRPT), a trade association that promotes ports, terminals and intermodal centers along the nation’s inland waterway systems. On January 16, IRPT’s board of directors voted to make her hire official.
In her new role, Howard will lead IRPT’s new We Work the Waterways program, a maritime industry awareness and education initiative. Howard is continuing her prior work of collaborating with local schools and representatives of the maritime community to host career discovery events, or “industry interactions,” as they are called in education circles. The goal of the one-day events is for young people, particularly those who might otherwise be drawn to the trades, to gain an awareness of the opportunities that abound in the maritime field.
“If people aren’t aware this industry exists, they can’t even consider coming into this industry,” Howard said. “Waiting until they’re out of school and looking for a job is really too late.”
As a member of first the RiverWorks Discovery advisory board and now the We Work the Waterways advisory council, IRPT Executive Director Aimee Andres was already familiar with the goals and vision Howard had for maritime industry outreach. She also saw the value in merging IRPT’s current initiatives with Howard’s passion for outreach. Andres emphasized the collaborative nature of We Work the Waterways.
“One message that IRPT’s We Work the Waterways wants to send out is that we aren’t competing with one another in the maritime industry, but with other industries,” Andres said. “We need to show youth and job-seeking adults that we are a great industry to work and grow in.”
Howard already has a robust lineup of We Work the Waterways events on the calendar. We Work the Waterways hosted two events in Baton Rouge January 30-31. Upcoming events include Vicksburg, Miss. (February 15), the New Orleans Military & Maritime Academy (March 5), the Port of South Louisiana (March 6-7), Pittsburgh (April 9), and Point Pleasant, W.Va. (April 10). Howard said she will also be part of an event with the New Orleans Junior Achievement in March, along with some speaking engagements.
Beyond the one-day events, Howard said We Work the Waterways will equip local maritime industry leaders to engage with schools in their area, from elementary and secondary schools to community and technical colleges, to raise awareness of opportunities the maritime industry offers.
“We will have materials that sponsors can utilize to take into schools, if they want to go and do an hour-long presentation, for example,” Howard said. “Instead of struggling with ‘what are we going to say’ or ‘how do we engage with the kids,’ as supporters of the program, they will have access to resources to help promote the industry in schools.”
Dawn Lopez, vice president of marketing and public relations for Turn Services and Associated Terminals and a member of the We Work the Waterways advisory council, said the goal is to build meaningful relationships with schools that, in time, will attract the next-generation workforce to the maritime industry.
“Our outreach is not only to the students but to the actual educators,” Lopez said. “And our goal is to expand our outreach to career and technical schools, guidance counselors and parents.”
“By connecting the industry with educators, we’re really helping both parties establish relationships that will last beyond these events,” Howard said.
Howard said she hopes to serve as a liaison between educators and the industry by connecting representatives of the maritime industry to school-specific outreach opportunities and larger-scale career fairs.
Ultimately, it’s about telling the maritime industry’s story and giving young people a vision of how the maritime industry can be part of their story, too.
The We Work the Waterways advisory council includes both educators and representatives from the maritime industry. And while the organization falls under the umbrella of IRPT, membership in IRPT is not a prerequisite for supporting or participating in We Work the Waterways. Even the name of the organization, Howard said, highlights its broad focus and collaborative nature: We Work the Waterways.
“It’s not just rivers or canals,” Howard said. “Wherever our mariners go or wherever our shoreside personnel serve, that’s the story we want to tell to our students and communities.”
The ultimate goal, Andres said, is full employment for the maritime industry.
“Since 1974, Inland Rivers, Ports & Terminals has been supporting the maritime community, and in the past 10 years, has increased its growing presence in the industry,” Andres said. “The benefits we provide the industry, the activities we are engaged in, all support a robust supply chain. Access to a qualified workforce is a crucial component to the success of both small and large businesses working in transportation, and IRPT is proud to serve the industry to reach the goal of a plentiful workforce.”
To learn more about how to volunteer with a We Work the Waterways event, to donate or to register a school for an event, go online to www.irpt.net/we-work-the-waterways.