VICKSBURG – Tossing a heavy, 12-foot mooring rope off a barge on the Mississippi River is a calling for some and simply a rough-sounding job for others.
Chad Vickers and Garrett Williams each have trained to do this now, and, though they took different paths to the “marine life,” they have specialized deckhand training through Hinds Community College and Golding Barge Line.
“It runs in my family,” said Vickers, 24, a Vicksburg native and Level 2 deckhand with the River City-based barge company. “They’ve been on the water all my life. My grandfather owned a ferry on the Yazoo River and we all fished.”
This past winter, he completed a 7 ½- day deckhand training course offered since 2014 and paid for by the Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant to nine members of the Mississippi River Transportation, Distribution and Logistics consortium, of which Hinds is a part. Although the grant ends in October, the college and its industry partners have worked together to keep the training available to those who want to enter the marine transport industry.
“The transportation sector is one of the largest industries in our service area.” said Chad Stocks, vice president of Career, Technical, and Workforce Education. “With the expansion of the Panama Canal and more manufacturing companies locating or expanding in the college’s service area, the ability to move goods up and down the river is essential. This training program provides qualified workers to do this work and I am thrilled that we were able to set the program up with the grant and sustain it with industry partnerships.”
Deckhands in the industry make in the $20,000 to $30,000 range annually. As a trained tankerman, Vickers stands to get a significant raise in life – to about $65,000. And he’s all in for the gig.
“I’ll be doing tankerman training next – working my way up the ladder like everyone else,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll make it to the top soon.”
Williams is climbing the same ladder. The Rolling Fork native already had a bachelor’s degree in Education from Delta State University, but switched careers due to the earnings potential on the water.
“I found out about the program from a friend after being laid off from a job in oilfield services,” said Williams, a tankerman trainee. “Other people had talked to me about how good a company and job it is, and wanted to put myself in a position to follow behind them.”
Hinds and industry veterans with Maritime Services of Louisiana are training employees of Golding, Yazoo River Towing and Magnolia Marine.
Students are evaluated and certified accordingly after completing the training, in which they touch on every aspect of working on a barge – from throwing and securing a line, operating a johnboat, rigging, among other practical skills. Hands-on sessions are conducted after classroom sessions each morning and testing. The effect it’s had has been companies getting job-ready workers without interrupting workflow.
“Experienced industry veterans instruct the training,” said Stirlin Hancock, vice president of human resources at Golding Barge. “So, we fully intend for the training to go forward after the grant is up. We’re working with Hinds to make that happen.”
For information about enrolling in the deckhand training program offered in Vicksburg through Hinds Community College, contact Marvin Moak, dean of Hinds’ Vicksburg-Warren Campus, at 601-629-6805.