By Alex Rueben
Executive Director, Association of BC Marine Industries
The Association of British Columbia Marine Industries (ABCMI) continues to grow and expand its operations and its representation within British Columbia’s marine sector. This effort has been greatly assisted by the support of the federal and provincial governments and thus, it is the intent of this article to touch briefly upon that support and how it is allowing the Association to move forward with a number of interesting activities.
In cooperation with the Government of British Columbia and funding through the Sector Labour Market Partnership (SLMP), ABCMI carried out labour market and industrial marine sector definition and capability studies in order to help define the sector, its demographics and key findings that will inform strategies in moving forward. Before moving on, it is important to understand who ABCMI defines as the industrial marine sector that it seeks to represent. This definition has evolved since 2015, when ABCMI was first incorporated, and now stands as the following industry sub-sectors:
- Shipbuilding, refit and repair includes new construction, modernization, conversion, maintenance, in-service support, barge fabrication and repair and industrial fabrication;
- Small craft marine includes construction of all recreational, pleasure, and small commercial or government craft including rigid hull inflatables and submersibles. This sub-sector also includes all boatyards, marine repair facilities, chandleries, and yacht brokerages and marinas that do repair or maintenance;
- Marine industrial services include domestic marine transportation, marine services, industrial fleet owners, ports, marine construction, repair of port and marina infrastructure, marine renewable energy infrastructure, commercial diving and remotely operated underwater vehicles, underwater repair and underwater surveys, dredging, and pile driving;
- Marine professional services include marine engineering, naval architecture, marine law, marine consulting, software development and sales, as well as education and training related to industrial marine activities;
- Marine products include all products that have a marine application and are used by companies in the industrial marine sector; and,
- Ocean science and technology includes research instrumentation, autonomous and piloted underwater vehicles, cabled observatories, “smart” buoys, marine acoustics, and marine renewable energy. This includes companies and research/academic institutions that invent, develop and produce products for specific use in/on the ocean, or provide knowledge-intensive technology-based services unique to the ocean.
Overall, there are 1,000 companies in the sector (as defined above), which range in size from owner/operator to companies with 500+ employees. Their distribution within the Province, by sector, is shown in Figure 1. The sector is dominated by small firms, with half the companies in the sector employing 1-9 employees. The sector employs approximately 21,000 workers and is expected to grow by an additional 5,500 workers by 2027. Due to retirements, work transitions, and sector growth, an estimated 16,560 job openings are projected in the sector by 2027. This speaks to the very real need for the development and application of pro-active human resource strategies focusing on attraction and recruitment, retention, and education and training. It is also proposed to establish a human resources committee that acts as a focal point for the implementation and coordination of these labour market strategies — something that is now being fleshed out as ABCMI continues into the ‘strategy implementation’ phase of its SLMP project with the BC Government.
In terms of markets, B.C.’s industrial marine sector provides its products and services to B.C. (72 per cent), to Canada yet outside of B.C. (12 per cent) and to international markets (16 per cent). The six sub-sectors listed above vary considerably in targeting international markets, with ocean science and technology leading the export activity with 62 per cent of its products and services going to international markets. Marine professional services follow with 26 per cent of its sales going to international markets, followed by marine industrial services (21 per cent), marine products (15 per cent), shipbuilding (12 per cent), and small craft marine (7 per cent). Interestingly, 86 per cent of BC’s marine product companies sell to defence/security companies. In the past, the BC Government has supported efforts in targeting international markets — most recently, at SMM Hamburg 2018 in Germany, partnering with ABCMI in helping preferred B.C. vendors for systems and equipment showcase their products to a multitude of foreign shipyards hoping to build new BC Ferries vessels.
At the ABCMI Business Opportunities Conference 2018, Minister Carla Qualtrough, (Public Services and Procurement Canada) announced a $1-million, three-year funding agreement with the ABCMI that will help the Association in its mandate of serving and supporting B.C.’s industrial marine sector. This funding, coming from Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD), is intended to support workforce development and growth; enhanced networking to identify and generate business opportunities; increased representation of business capabilities and capacities throughout the industrial marine sector; and working with industry to organize domestic and foreign trade missions to market the West Coast marine industry. The Minister also announced the creation of a federal Marine Industry Advisory Committee (MIAC), on which the ABCMI will be a standing member, to facilitate coordinated dialogue surrounding opportunities and challenges facing the Canadian marine industry. The Committee will provide a forum for the discussion of a range of topics including, but not limited to, planning, interdependencies, best practices, innovation, international market opportunities and trends, and the state of the Canadian marine sector. The MIAC will complement and not replace standard industry engagement that occurs in the context of individual procurement processes.
WD funding is helping ABCMI in increasing the visibility of the B.C. industrial marine sector on national and international stages. In the latter context, ABCMI is organizing and supporting the BC Pavilion, comprising 12 companies, at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston, Texas, in May 2019. Likewise, it will be supporting B.C companies in a similar effort at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in October 2019, and at Oceanology International 2020 in London, in March 2020. Closer to home, ABCMI is partnering with WD and the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC), to organize and host the Western Innovation Forum in Vancouver on March 7, 2019. ABCMI will also have a presence at the Ship Technology Forum in March, Mari-Tech in April, CANSEC in May, the Canadian Ferry Association Conference in September and Pacific Marine Expo in November.
Initiatives made possible through federal and provincial funding also include support to training and education for B.C. companies. ABCMI is working with LearnSphere Canada Inc., a company based in New Brunswick that has received funding from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) to implement a supply chain education program called Supply Chain 123. This program comprises nine modules of training, delivered in nine days over the period April to August 2019, in subjects ranging from ‘Position Your Business for Supply Chain Success’ to ‘Successfully Shaping and Responding to the RFP’ to ‘Project Management Fundamentals.’ ABCMI will soon be looking for 15-20 B.C. companies to take part in this FREE training opportunity that comes complete with follow-on coaching support. For companies seeking more formal supplier development education in an effort to improve upon their operations and performance in the supply chains of large Prime Contractors and Tier 1 Suppliers; the BC Government, in partnership with AIAC, has developed courses that can be delivered at a modest cost, given sufficient interest. This education includes three-day courses in Executive and Supervisory Leadership, Strategic Business Planning, Project & Risk Management, Skills & Capability Development and Lean & Continuous Improvement.
As ABCMI works to continue its collaborative efforts with the BC Government, a number of projects are under consideration for approval by the government. A proposal is being advanced by ABCMI to conduct an SLMP-funded study on B.C.’s surface mariner population and workforce development needs and strategies. An increasing number of ABCMI members are fleet owners, both public and private, who have either current or projected shortages in certified mariners. These desired qualifications range from entry level Bridge Watch Rating (BWR) and Small Vessel Machinery Operator (SVMO) to Second and Third Class Engineer and Master and Chief Mate Near Coastal (various GT). ABCMI intends to work closely with other B.C. marine associations, including the Council of Marine Carriers and the Chamber of Shipping, as well as fleet owners in conducting this project.
Other ideas that are in the works are the creation of a BC Industrial Marine Sector Capabilities Manual showcasing the products and services of B.C. companies; the creation of a provincial equivalent of the federal Marine Industry Advisory Committee to tie more comprehensively and effectively into the BC Government and its many ministries; and, the creation of a BC Maritime Strategy to provide a framework around the growth and sustainment of the Province’s maritime sector, increase visibility with the general public and provide information to guide government in policy development. Take note of Washington State’s Maritime Blue Initiative that is in the process of developing a strategy to make Washington home to the most sustainable maritime industry in the United States by 2050. Quebec launched its Maritime Strategy in 2015 with the key strategic thrusts being the economy, environment and communities. And most recently, the United Kingdom launched its new Maritime Strategy in January 2019 — a document that clearly enunciates strategic ambitions within seven high-level themes: competitive advantage, environment, infrastructure, people, security, technology and trade.
As it continues to grow in its capacity and ability to support and represent the B.C. marine industry, ABCMI is working hard to establish and maintain its relationship and standing with the provincial and federal governments. These relationships are leading to a multitude of opportunities that will benefit the industry and see its sustained growth within the B.C. economy in the future.
Alex Rueben is a marine engineer by trade, having spent 35 years in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). Following retirement from the RCN, Alex built and operated the Industrial Marine Training and Applied Research Centre, now known as the Camosun Coastal Centre. Alex can be reached at email@example.com.