Industry and Academia Partner to Prepare the Shipbuilders of Tomorrow

Four years ago, Kuljeet Kaushal was a junior engineer at a Vancouver-area yacht maker. Today, the 27-year-old is employed at shipbuilding giant Seaspan Shipyards at their North Vancouver design and manufacturing facility, where his responsibilities have significantly increased – as has his salary.

His job includes working on a major program under the federal government’s long-term National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS), which will see the construction of vessels for the Canadian Coast Guard and Royal Canadian Navy. Seaspan Shipyards, which the government competitively selected as the non-combat shipbuilder under the NSS, is currently designing an Offshore Oceanographic Science Vessel (OOSV) for the Coast Guard and two Joint Support Ships (JSS) for the Canadian Navy. This design work is in addition to the construction of the two remaining Offshore Fisheries Science Vessels (OFSV) which are at various stages of completion; the first OFSV was launched in December 2017.

Kuljeet Kaushal at the Seaspan office in North Vancouver.

Kuljeet Kaushal, UBC NAME Program Graduate and Seaspan Employee

Mr. Kaushal credits a relatively new Master’s Degree program in engineering, offered by the University of British Columbia, for his upwards career trajectory.

UBC’s one-year Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering (NAME) program offers two options for applicants with a civil, materials or mechanical engineering degree and several years of related work experience: the technical Master of Engineering (M.Eng. NAME) program or the more business-focussed Master of Engineering Leadership program (MEL), administered through UBC’s Faculty of Applied Science and Sauder School of Business.

NAME was created in 2013 after Seaspan donated $2-million to UBC over seven years to support naval architecture and marine engineering – one of several programs at various institutions that Seaspan has supported. The funding is part of Seaspan’s commitment to developing a sustainable shipbuilding industry and marine sector eco-system under the NSS.

“By partnering with UBC, Seaspan is preparing the shipbuilders of tomorrow,” said UBC Prof. Jon Mikkelsen, co-director of NAME. “With this funding, we’ve been able to turn out marine-ready graduates. We like to say we are ‘marinizing’ our engineers with this program.”

Seaspan’s UBC donation is helping to turn out skilled professionals who can tackle the increasingly complex, sophisticated demands of ship design and engineering. It expects its NSS-related work will help to create more than 2,300 Canadian jobs over the first 10 years of the program and generate billions of dollars in economic spinoffs.

More than 50 people have already graduated from NAME, finding work at businesses of all shapes and sizes. A number of them, like Mr. Kaushal, are working at Seaspan.

Others, like graduate Kathy Yang, 29, work for companies serving Seaspan in its NSS work. She is a naval architect in the Vancouver office of global engineering giant Alion Science and Technology, a Tier-1 Partner of Seaspan’s on the NSS. Ms. Yang, who grew up surrounded by engineers (her father worked as a naval architect in China, her grandfather, uncle and aunt are engineers and her mother works at an engineering company) – was eager to apply to NAME when she learned about it at UBC. She chose the M.Eng. path and completed the required co-op portion at Alion. She was hired there upon graduation in 2016 and loves the work.

Mr. Kaushal also opted for the M.Eng. degree and was a proud member of the first graduating class of 2014. He has no doubt about its role in his career advancement; “I was definitely hired at Seaspan because I have this degree.”

Graduates emerge equipped with skills in areas that include ship architecture (the vessel’s form and function), marine engineering (designing all the vital systems within the ship) and an all-important element, project management. The latter is a must-have in the curriculum, said Chris McKesson, NAME co-director and UBC professor. “The modern ship is extremely complex. We’re talking about floating cities. The system closest to it in complexity would be a space station.”

NAME is rich with input from top industry leaders who make sure its curriculum stays current. “Our advisors meet regularly to look at the program’s strengths and challenges and offer feedback so we can continuously improve it,” said Prof. Mikkelsen.

Brian Carter speaking to two students.

Brian Carter, President & CEO of Seaspan Shipyards, shares his passion for naval architecture and marine engineering with students currently pursuing their degrees

By providing engineers with both high-level technical and leadership skills, NAME has the potential to ease a current and looming shortage of skilled labour within the industrial marine sector. It is expected to grow by an average of about 2.7 per cent every year for the next decade, according to the Association of British Columbia Marine Industries. It projects that industry will have to fill over 16,600 positions due to current vacancies, retirements, attrition and demand growth. Put another way, for every 10 current workers, eight more will have to be hired by 2027 to meet projected demand, it said.

Brian Carter, President and CEO of Seaspan Shipyards, said the company’s partnership with UBC is helping fill local shipbuilding job vacancies with locally trained marine engineers. “Shipbuilding is back in Canada, and our academic partnerships are helping to ensure the success of our industry over the long-term.”

As for Ms. Yang, she said Seaspan’s contribution to NAME is generating exciting opportunities for engineering students. “[Students] spend a lot of time studying in university, so it’s great that they can look forward to jobs when they graduate. Seaspan and NAME are really helping us get great careers.”