Students’ perceptions of marine careers provide insight into workforce challenges

Despite the recent growth and attention on the marine industry in Nova Scotia, a new study by the Centre for Ocean Ventures & Entrepreneurship (COVE) finds that interest in career opportunities among students remains low.

The Student Intentions and Perceptions Study found that only 12% of grade 6-12 English, French, and Mi’kmaq Kina’matneway students in Nova Scotia are interested in the career opportunities in the marine industry.

Led by Dr. Sherry Scully, Director of Learning & Organizational Development at COVE, the voluntary study measures students’ attitudes and perceptions of marine-related and trades/technology careers in Nova Scotia. The study was conducted in partnership with the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (EECD) and funded through an ongoing partnership with Irving Shipbuilding.

Findings show that awareness, understanding and interest in marine sector careers continue to be low with most students. While more than four in five students (84%) are aware of marine related career opportunities with the Navy, only three in five identify as having ever heard of shipbuilding (60%), commercial fishing (60%), marine transportation (60%), marine engineering (51%), and ocean scientist and researcher (62%). Awareness of careers in emerging regional sectors such as aquaculture (32%), ocean technology (29%), marine robotics (29%), and naval architect (41%) ranked amongst the lowest.

The findings will help inform future targeted messaging, and career and ocean literacy programs. The study also shows that there is an opportunity to increase awareness of marine related career opportunities.

Results in the 2019 study are aligned with those from a similar 2016 study by Dr. Scully. The 2019 study summarizes data captured from the original sample group who are now in grades 9-12 to gain insights into if and how attitudes, perceptions and intentions have shifted, as well as the current grade 6-8 cohort to compare with the same grade grouping from the original study. The 2019 Student Intentions and Perceptions Study can be found online at

“Understanding the perceptions of marine-related and trades/technology careers among today’s youth provides useful insights to inform recommendations for the design of future awareness and career development programs to help us shift the dial on this workforce challenge,” says Dr. Scully. “We found the results from this study are consistent with those from the original 2016 study. However, there were significant changes with older students having less interest in leaving the province for work or study and showing more interest in pursuing different career pathways after high school.”
“We have a great team of nearly 2,000 shipbuilders currently at Halifax Shipyard. We want to make sure that we are attracting the best and brightest for the next 20+ years to help us proudly build ships for Canada. Research like this and the programs that come from it will ensure students across the country know about the boundless opportunities in the marine sector and especially shipbuilding,” said Kevin McCoy, President, Irving Shipbuilding.
“Students as early as grade 4 are learning about our oceans and the environment. It’s also when they begin to explore careers, including those related to oceans, skilled trades, and technology,” said Zach Churchill, Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development. “Since 2016 we have partnered with COVE on professional development for our teachers, collaborated with Dalhousie University to develop Ocean School, and made learning about our oceans part of the grade 7 and 8 curriculum. These and other opportunities support our students to develop the interest and skills to pursue good paying jobs in Nova Scotia.”

More Stories

When you build in Canada.

You invest in Canada.

I support building ships in Halifax that support a stronger economy and industry here and in communities across Canada.

Join us to stay up to date on Canadian shipbuilding that matters to you:

Stay up to date on news and information, including events, opportunities, information about the Canadian shipbuilding industry, advocacy campaigns and related communications through newsletters, publications and other electronic communications from Irving Shipbuilding Inc (ISI).

Follow us on social media.