Set Sail in the Maritime Transportation Industry!

A cargo ship loaded full of cargo containers sails along a mountainous coastline.

What is the maritime transportation industry and what does it have to offer future career-seekers? We spoke with Richard Stewart, a professor in the school of business at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, to learn more.

The maritime or shipping industry is one of the oldest industries in the world, but it’s far from extinct. Though many people don’t realize it, ships, like steamers and container ships, move the majority of the goods and products that enter and leave the United States, Stewart told Fast Forward.

Richard Stewart, Professor at the University of Wisconsin Superior.

Click a button to watch an interview with Richard Stewart:

“Ninety-five percent of everything that enters the United States or departs from the United States moves on ships. Without ships as the lifeblood of our economy, it would cease to exist,” Stewart said.

The sheer size of the industry means that there will always be a demand for skilled professionals. Maritime employees don’t just sail on ships or operate tugs and barges; they also work in various roles landside, like operating the seaports, loading and unloading cargo, handling paperwork, and conducting business and marketing.

“When we talk about a maritime profession, it’s like talking about the trucking industry and saying, ‘If I want to enter trucking, I have to be a truck driver.’ That’s one element of the trucking industry,” Stewart said. “The same goes in the maritime industry. Those who actually operate the ships, who operate the tugs and barges, that’s just a segment of the maritime industry,” Stewart explained.

With a variety of jobs required to keep this industry afloat, there are plenty of opportunities waiting for people interested in working in the shipping industry. For those who want to actually go to sea, there might even be opportunities for a little challenge and adventure, if they’re up for it.

“A typical seafarer is gone away from home for four months or more. Then it’s off for a month and back again for four months. So, finding people who are willing to live this lifestyle, to manage an asset worth $100 million or more in a hazardous environment traveling to many different countries, … it’s a difficult proposition,” Steward said.

Before teaching, Stewart sailed cargo ships all over the world as a licensed merchant commander. He has also worked landside at various major seaports and he ran an entire fleet of ships. To get to this managerial level, he explained, students should start by enrolling in college programs and take courses in transportation, supply chain, as well as the humanities.

“You’re going to be interacting with lots of different cultures around the world in the transportation industry. It isn’t a domestic industry. … You need to understand this if you’re going to operate at the management level,” he said.

Stewart also recommended finding a degree program that includes an internship as a graduation requirement.

“Textbooks cannot convey what it’s like … they can’t give you the size dimensions that you’re going to see in ships or other areas. … You can only gain that in the field,” he said.

Watch the video to see clips of our interview with Stewart.

Aaron Mack
Fast Forward: Volume 3 Issue 6 – Maritime & Rail