By Karen Robes Meeks
Whether you are running the nation’s busiest seaport or working to raise the economic profile of an entire state, nurturing a robust maritime workforce is essential to your success.
Along the West Coast, port and business leaders are hard at work, fortifying the current workforce with additional skills and developing the next generation of workers who will be able to support waterfront operations and keep the region’s maritime sector competitive.
Port of Los Angeles
A year ago in his annual State of the Port Address, Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka announced a $600,000 state grant-funded pilot training program that would bring together the port, the Pacific Maritime Association and the ILWU.
From that partnership, they all agreed on an area for more developed training: teaching new longshore workers how to lash containers.
Harbor Department engineers designed the simulation, visiting actual container ships at the port and measuring the walkways between the rows of containers to replicate a two-story, 30-inch wide walkway with two stacks of containers at the PMA training center.
Today, that pilot program is in full swing with a cohort of 100 casuals who have already been trained and another cohort of 100 preparing to run through the program, said Avin Sharma, director of labor relations and workforce development for the Port of Los Angeles.
With the successful demonstration of the pilot program, “we’re hopeful that the employer and the union then may be able to adopt this as part of their permanent training program,” Sharma said.
Meanwhile, another initiative announced last year, the formation of a HR Directors Cohort, is also under way.
The Cohort, whose purpose is to gather workforce development professionals to share best practices and help businesses that operate in the port on hiring and training, has been meeting regularly toward that cause. A recent meeting featured a representative from the Employment Training Panel who did a presentation on how companies can get resources from the state to help with training, Sharma said.
This year, the port is launching two new workforce development initiatives.
The first is the Port of Los Angeles Labor Collaborative, an effort to bring the different labor unions that operate at the port to the table and share feedback directly with the port on any issues they want to raise and to get to know each other.
The port is also sending out a survey to stakeholders to get a sense of their current and future training and technical needs.
The survey will help the port identify their workforce needs and provide support.
“If it’s wanting to work more closely with some of our local academics, whether it’s high schools or community colleges, then we can at the port authority help facilitate some introductions, and so you get a better awareness of what’s going on,” Sharma said.
Workforce development is very important to the port, he said.
“One in nine jobs in this region are tied to the port complex, and so what we’re doing now is…looking at what is our role in those one in nine jobs,” Sharma said.
“To that end, we’re looking at how we can provide career paths for individuals so that they could end up in good careers. This is an industry where there’s a constant change in technology and we want to make sure that our workforce that operates here at the port and across the supply chain is in a space where there is innovative workforce training available to them.”
In Alaska, maritime is the state’s biggest employment sector with more than 70,000 jobs across some two dozen occupations, including aquaculture, marine researchers, ship building and ship repair. A high number of those jobs are done by non-residents, especially in the fishing, commercial fishing and processing sectors, said Cari-Ann Carty, Executive Director of the Alaska Safety Alliance, whose organization has worked with several different groups to try and increase the training that’s available in the state in an effort to increase the in-state resident hires in the sector.
And while the sector is an economic force in the state, “maritime employers note that the number of Alaskans who have the necessary skills to fill these positions is too low to meet the demand. An aging or “graying” workforce was identified by many employers,” according to the Alaska Maritime Workforce Development Plan developed in 2014.
The plan was a “call to action” to develop a workforce that can meet the growing economic demands and cultivate that workforce locally, with strategies for career outreach across 23 occupations.
“The plan was developed as a kind of a roadmap,” Carty said. “We recognize that we don’t have a high enough resident hire. We’re struggling to fill some positions and we needed to plan for the future to make sure that we can put that training in place, make sure that we can start filling those jobs with resident Alaskans.”
High school students are a major focus in that initiative, she said. The ASA has worked with the university system and a community foundation to develop outreach materials that are available on its website.
Each of the 23 career fields is detailed on the website with its own page to talk about where visitors can get a link to training programs within the state of Alaska for those particular careers. Each one also describes what types of training it would take to get there, what the pay expectations might be in that field and links to other related careers, Carty said.
“We provide those to teachers, new counselors and to students who might be looking at different career options as an introduction to this group,” Carty said.
ASA has done presentations or has arranged for some in the industry to do presentations in high schools.
“We’re working on that kind of awareness and outreach piece to let folks know where the jobs are and how they can get the training to move into those jobs,” she said. Meanwhile, the workforce development plan is being reviewed.
“It’s revisiting the action steps and creating an action plan going into the future – what else can we do to add on to what we’ve already done and what should we continue to do?” she said. “We hope to have that action plan developed by the end of 2020.”
Investing in one’s workforce goes hand in hand with economic development plans, she said.
“You really can’t talk about economic development if you’re not talking about workforce development at the same time,” Carty said. “If you want to grow or expand your industry, your business, you need people that can do that, that can man those shifts, that can bring the skills that you need, whether that’s engineering or welding, and that there has to be a plan for that like there is for any other aspect of your business.
It’s critical to the general health of your community that people have jobs, that they have with paying jobs. If you’re a business or a business manager, you need to have an available workforce to implement your plan.”
And those in the industry are vital in developing that workforce, she said.
“We’re not doing this in a vacuum; we’re not doing it alone,” Carty said. “It’s critical that we have good partnerships. We can’t do it without our industry folks that are helping to support the effort and letting us know what the needs are.”
In recent years, there is an effort to look more critically at maritime workforce development in Oregon, where the maritime sector accounted for almost 19,000 in 2017, according to the state employment department.
That encompasses residents and nonresidents and includes those who work as civilian maritime workers, commercial fishers and military service members.
In 2017, the Oregon State Legislature passed a bill to form a task force on maritime sector workforce development. This task force would develop recommendations to the State Workforce and Talent Development Board to include the maritime sector in the state workforce system plan.
In March, the task force presented to the board a sobering summation, which the board detailed in a June letter to Gov. Kate Brown.
“The presentation emphasized that the maritime sector is multifaceted, large and in need of skilled workers,” the letter read. “We also learned that our current education and training infrastructure is inadequate to meet the talent needs of the maritime industry and its employers. Our current system is also unable to keep up with the pace of replacement of the aging/retiring maritime workforce.”
The presentation stated that “the sector is expected to add new jobs while a large share of the current workforce will retire or change careers within the next 10 years” and that “these high skill high wage jobs require some level of post-secondary training.”
At the March meeting, the board voted to recognize the maritime sector as a key sector in the state and support recruitment and training for in this sector, partner with other sectors to develop talent and encourage and recommend funding resources.
For the Port of Coos Bay, which supports the lumber and commercial fishing industries, workforce development is important, said Margaret Barber, director of external affairs for the port.
“One of our focuses as a port is diversifying the types of commodities that flow in and out of our gateway, so that’s creating additional opportunities as well, but then it’s also sustaining what we’ve got by cultivating our workforce,” she said.
Meanwhile, the port also launched an annual scholarship program a couple of years ago in an effort to grow and develop that next generation of workers.
The new scholarship program – which this year is awarding a pair of $500 scholarships – targets high school seniors within the port district, with special consideration to those wanting to pursue careers in the maritime, rail, or trade and logistics industries.
“The port sees great value in investing in our youth and growing our workforce locally,” said Port chief executive officer John Burns. “It is essential in cultivating our community so it can grow and thrive. As we look to the future of this community, it’s important to encourage our young people to pursue successful careers and return to the area.”
Port of Everett
The Port of Everett has a very active student outreach and workforce development effort, said port Public Affairs Manager Catherine Soper.
The port’s Apprenticeship Program is a 4-year program that offers port maintenance and operations team members the ability to acquire the skills needed to move into a full-time maintenance journeyman position, she said.
“We assign varied jobs to our apprentices so they can acquire skills in the following categories: electrical, mechanical, woodworking, water systems, metals/metal fabrication, equipment operation/maintenance and landscaping,” she said. “We currently have two apprentices in our marina operations division, and are adding two in our marine terminals operations division.”
For students, the port is currently working with local education partners and a handful of businesses involved in the trades at its working waterfront to coordinate a new “Workforce Development Day” field trip to the port, Soper said.
“Our hope is to connect high school students exploring jobs in the trades with the businesses here at the waterfront, including those located in our Marina and Shipping Terminals areas, to get them pointed in the right direction on what skills they need to learn and steps they need to take to get into these types of jobs,” she said.
Snohomish County, in particular, is expected to add another 25,000 jobs by 2040, and the current workforce, specifically in the trades, is retiring, Soper said.
“Workforce development will continue to be a key factor in ensuring a skilled and ready workforce into the future,” she said.