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New Technology, Data Require Up-To-Speed Workforce

Steve Lohrenz
Dean of Marine Science & Technology,
University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth

The recent release of the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2015 budget reaffirms a commitment to improving the size and caliber of the nation’s workforce in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The marine science and technology sector is a prime example of where the need for such a skilled and technologically competent workforce is critical.

The emergence of new technology is commonplace in marine research and applications. Increasingly sophisticated ocean sensors have expanded our three dimensional view of the oceans and how they function. Once limited to ship-based deployments, new sensors are being deployed for long periods on ocean moorings and autonomous robotic platforms capable of traversing the ocean depths.

In addition to in-water technologies, we take for granted our views of the ocean from airborne and space-based sensors that provide synoptic views of ocean winds, weather, currents, climate, and associated properties and processes that could only be imagined by the earliest ocean explorers (many of whom had remarkably prophetic imaginations).

The explosive growth in advanced instrumentation and technology is dramatically impacting how work in marine environments is carried out. This transformation has been accompanied by a rapidly increasing volume and variety of data that have challenged conventional networks for telemetry and have stretched the boundaries for capabilities to organize information and communicate it to users in ways that support both research and operational applications. In addition, increasingly complex numerical ocean models are required to “fill in the blanks” in our understanding of ocean processes and our ability to forecast change, which in turn require increased capacity in computational infrastructure.

These technical and technological challenges, while critically important, represent only part of the equation. The other side of the equation is the human one. As we continue to see increasing sophistication in marine technology and increasingly complex demands for managing, processing and communicating data to users, we must also recognize the need to educate a workforce with the skill set to match future demands in the marine science and technology sector.

There is a diversity of opinions about employment projections in relationship to the expected supply of newly trained graduates in STEM fields. However, it is reasonable to anticipate that there will be growth in jobs in key areas of the marine sector along with accelerating attrition due to an aging demographic. This makes it likely that competition for hiring and retention of qualified personnel will be a challenge for a number of marine science and technology disciplines.

Ironically, despite expected growth in the need for a skilled marine technology workforce, educational resources are becoming increasingly limited. Reduced state appropriations and tightening federal budgets have shifted more of the burden of costs of higher education onto students and their families. Universities are necessarily seeking ways to increase efficiency and effectiveness, and one promising avenue is through innovative partnerships and programs that extend across academic, government, industry, private and professional boundaries. Such linkages would ideally provide additional resources for the development of new academic programs and ensure that such programs are matched to workforce need. Moreover, these alliances expose students to the rich knowledge and expertise of working professionals in their fields of interest.

This issue of Sea Technology is dedicated to topics of data processing, telemetry and communications. These topics are the currency of marine technology applications, and our ability to implement new development in these areas requires an appropriately trained workforce. New and collaborative strategies to expand marine science and technology education across traditional academic and nonacademic boundaries will help to make that a reality.

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Sea Technology is read worldwide in more than 110 countries by management, engineers, scientists and technical personnel working in industry, government and educational research institutions. Readers are involved with oceanographic research, fisheries management, offshore oil and gas exploration and production, undersea defense including antisubmarine warfare, ocean mining and commercial diving.