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Sometimes, all it takes is a spark. 

As ninth graders from Tacoma’s Lincoln High School toured the Port of Tacoma earlier this month, the possibilities of a future maritime career felt very real. 

“I’m getting to know about all these new job opportunities that I didn’t know we had here,” student Amanyah Jones said in a video produced by Tacoma Public Schools. “Everything’s just interesting to me.” 

Because of a grant from Washington Alliance for Better Schools, all Lincoln High ninth graders get the opportunity to learn about the maritime industry by visiting the Port and the Tacoma Youth Marine Center. 

Over donuts, students heard a quick overview of the Port, then learned how to tie up a ship by practicing tossing a line around a bollard. Back on the school bus, they traveled onto a terminal for a close-up view of longshore workers moving cargo. 

That work caught the attention of student Dani-Lynn Ray, who imagines someday loading ships or driving the vehicles that move containers. 

Student JoMierre Askew-Poirier also saw the possibility of a career at the Port. “I think I could do this, and it would be kind of fun.” 

Giving students the opportunity to learn about jobs on the waterfront is a key focus of the Port of Tacoma’s Workforce Development Strategic Plan. 

“It’s critical that we connect a new generation with family-wage jobs on our working waterfront,” said Port of Tacoma commission president Deanna Keller. “Workforce development is central to the Port’s mission.”  

The Port is connected to several school programs across Pierce County, is a regular presence at career fairs, and has developed educational tools to raise awareness about maritime careers. 

Through the Local Economic Development Investment Fund, the Port provided startup expenses to the Tacoma Youth Marine Center to bring its new training vessel, the MV Doolin-Rogers, into regulatory compliance. The youth-focused center hosts marine-related programs and helps students develop skills and confidence. 

The Port of Tacoma’s partnership with Tacoma Public Schools is expanding. In March 2023, the Port and the school district launched a joint planning and site assessment process to develop a Port-owned property for both a new maritime skills center and a maritime center to meet the Port’s business needs.  Maritime|253 will be a regional Career and Technical Education skills center serving high school students from multiple districts throughout the South Sound. 

“This is really important to the future workforce. The skilled trades are aging out,” said Leslie Barstow, Community Relations and Workforce Development Manager at the Port of Tacoma. 

If the response of Lincoln High School students to Port tours is any indication, an introduction to the working waterfront can open doors. 

“Students are saying, ‘Yeah, I’m interested, I want to learn more,’” said Kristie Wolford, Assistant Director for Career and Technical Education at Tacoma Public Schools. “It’s been phenomenal, the excitement and engagement by the students.”