Old Dominion University Prepares Students for Maritime Careers

New Maritime Consortium Unites Education, Outreach and Research Programs

by Justice Menzel

Each day, lines of 18-wheelers, 100-car freight trains and construction vehicles snake through the region’s labyrinthine infrastructure traveling to and from Hampton Roads’ global economic hub, the Port of Virginia, which is comprised of four marine terminals located in Portsmouth, Newport News and Norfolk, with one dry terminal in Front Royal in Northern Virginia.

The maritime industry is massive and it’s growing rapidly. According to its 2023 State of the Port of Virginia report, after huge investments into automation and land expansion, the Port of Virginia observed a 63% increase in operating income between 2022 and 2023 and developed 560,000 jobs for Virginia from 2019 to 2022. This growing industry will require a pipeline of qualified workers and Old Dominion University (ODU) is stepping up.

ODU is central to these vast ports and marine terminals. Understanding the adjacent workforce development potential, the university has positioned itself as a beacon, guiding students and preparing them for careers in the burgeoning maritime, supply chain management and logistics industries.

It’s not just Virginia that’s seeing this development; the entire maritime and logistics sector is trending upward. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that careers in the logistics and maritime industries will grow by 18% between 2021 and 2031, a rate “much faster than the average.” Much of that development can be attributed to the industry’s global efforts towards mechanization and digitization. “technology and automation is not a threat to this industry. I think if anything, it’s a help. Think of all the man hours that it’s going to save,” says Elspeth McMahon, Associate Vice President of Maritime Initiatives at ODU.

maritime career

“What maritime needs,” McMahon continues, “is people trained in it so they can best utilize these changes in technology to make it more efficient. Just looking at the past couple of months, with ChatGPT and AI, there are so many things happening on a global scale with technology that are going to affect everything, including supply chain management. So when you look at current employees, for them to keep up with the changes, there is always a need for ongoing training—you always have to go back to education.”

Since its inception in 1952, the Port of Virginia has become one of the largest cargo terminals in the country providing good paying jobs for generations of residents. But a key challenge is that young Virginians, especially college graduates, aren’t aware of the opportunities lying just outside their windows.

“It is very difficult to recruit into our industry,” says Michael Coleman, President and CEO of CV International, a prominent shipping logistics corporation. “ODU, however, has offered a bastion of new talent for companies like ours. We’ve hired a lot of individuals from Old Dominion who have the supply chain concentration in their degree in every city, and on both sides of our business. Some of them are in senior leadership positions. It’s been beneficial to us because the programs give folks the foundational information that they need in order to succeed in the maritime industry.”

Presently, the existing maritime-related degree programs within ODU’s Strome College of Business are popular, with approximately 80 undergraduate students and 18 graduate students, according to McMahon. Now, the university is taking career development a step further—the academic concentration is being expanded into its own School of Supply Chain, Logistics, and Maritime Operations.

In its rationale for the school, ODU’s Board of Visitors cited that “faculty, staff and administrators recently reviewed the history and structure of maritime and supply chain course offerings and research activities at the institution and identified a number of initiatives across the university that, while successful in their own right, failed to reach their fullest potential because they operated separately from one another. In addressing these issues, the Board and ODU President Brian Hemphill approved the creation of the Maritime Consortium.

The Consortium will unite the disparate maritime education, outreach and research wings of the university under one roof. They plan to expand and promote the opportunities and resources that ODU currently offers and advance pursuits in naval and defense sectors, shipbuilding, commercial shipping, port and maritime supply chains, offshore wind and related sectors with leading-edge data analytics. The new School of Supply Chain, Logistics, and Maritime Operations will house the Maritime Consortium and “provide the organizational structure needed to achieve its goals.”

Ricardo Ungo, the director of Old Dominion’s Maritime Research Institute, cited career awareness as one of the most valuable aspects of the new school. “Students don’t know what is being done at the port, or what is being done at the warehouses, or what career opportunities there are. We have to make them aware of what we have right here, next door, and that will open the possibilities for them. With the new school, ODU is committed to supplying the workforce that drives the Virginia Economy.”

McMahon concurs, “I think by creating the school, we’re going to help fill the gap with supply chain management and also have that maritime flavor that no other university is really focused on.” She believes that within three years, the school will reach its full potential, and perhaps expand even further.

“Being in this industry, we know that Norfolk is the center,” she continues. “It really is the center of everything. So having it as a hub for shipping, logistics, the supply chain sector and the military, how can it not grow?”

Justice Menzel is a sophomore and full-time English major at Old Dominion University, currently working as editor-in-chief of the Mace & Crown. He likes reading, foreign films, and cats.

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