Forgot Password?
June 11, 2018

Iconic maritime industry facing workforce shortage, uncertain future

By: Bobbi Cussins   Comments: 0
The Port of Tacoma. (photo courtesy of the Port of Tacoma)
Washington's working waterfronts are a major source of the state's economic power. Even as the state's export and import business is booming, a looming shortage of skilled workers and a changing landscape, particularly in Seattle, has industry experts concerned for its future.

Online newspaper Crosscut offers a deeper look at the urbanization of the port region in Seattle, writing: "As the urban landscape transforms, Seattle’s maritime sector struggles to adapt on the land it already occupies. The sawmills and canneries that dotted Elliott Bay were swept away as the city evolved into a major gateway to Asia with a containerized shipping port. Now, shipyards – vital to maritime industry – continue their work even as condos and apartment towers rise near the waterfront industrial belts. One of the world’s largest ferry systems continues to connect cities separated by water, sharing Puget Sound with a stream of freighters and yachts."

That isn't to say the ports have not remained healthy. In fact, the ports of Seattle and Tacoma operate the fourth-largest container gateway in North America. Nearly 2,000 vessels. moving 3.6 tons of cargo, called on the ports last year.

But, as The Everett Herald pointed out last year, the growing maritime sector is facing an aging workforce -- an average of 54 years-old as of 2013, according to a report -- and not enough young people are interested in the jobs to fill retirements.

“What we’re finding in our industry is that we have too many people retiring and not enough young people getting involved,” said Julie Keim, owner of Compass Courses, a private maritime-training school in Edmonds.

Like the manufacturing sector, hands-on careers in the maritime industry need to be reframed as the good-paying, high-tech jobs they are for today's young adults. Many of the positions offer work-based learning and require a certificate or two-year degree, not a costly four-year degree.

With an economic impact of $30 billion, 146,000 direct an indirect jobs with an average salary of $70,800 (compared to $52,000 in other sectors) and an average growth rate of 6.4 percent, addressing both the workforce shortage and highlighting the key role maritime plays in every sector of the state's economy is critical.

Washington Business magazine took a deeper look at the industry as a whole in it's winter 2016 edition, noting that while Washington's maritime industry employs more people than aerospace, it  can feel like a forgotten industry.

As Washington's diverse economy continues to grow and expand, it's worth remembering that virtually everything built in Washington relies on the state's working waterways - the ports and their workers -- to import raw materials and carry our finished products to countries around the globe.