The Maritime Industry Is Desperate for Crew

Young job applicants are not stepping up to fill the gaps
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 10, 2022 2:48 PM CST
Updated Dec 10, 2022 2:55 PM CST
Maritime Industry Desperate for Younger Workers
Container ships lie in the harbor in Hamburg, Germany, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022.   (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

To anyone seeking adventure and gainful employment far from a 9-to-5 desk routine, the maritime industry awaits with open arms. That's the message conveyed in a recent New York Times report, which begins aboard the Millennium Falcon, a tugboat that hauls barges on weekslong journeys from coast to coast via the Panama Canal. While persistent pandemic-related staffing shortages have eased for many industries, maritime companies are still struggling. "Hands down, our biggest challenge right now is finding crew," one executive told the Times.

But the pandemic isn't the only problem for an industry that has traditionally been and continues to be dominated by men with an appetite for hard work and a lifestyle not everyone can embrace. Many seasoned hands are sailing toward retirement, but new men (and the occasional woman willing to work and bunk alongside them) are not stepping up in sufficient numbers. The trend is in keeping with a 50-year decline in labor force participation among men, particularly in jobs that require a bit of grit. One scholar mentioned by the Times says too many men have become "inert, written off or discounted by society." Another scholar blames general "male malaise."

Maritime insiders agree that “changing attitudes toward work” aren’t helping, but many also say the industry hasn’t done enough to help itself. For example, young people may not be aware that starting pay for an entry-level deckhand is at least $55,000 per year, and while life onboard for a month can get cramped, experienced hands get equal paid time off. Per Workboat, the labor issue took center stage at the International Workboat Show last week, where everyone agreed “the industry does a poor job of promoting itself as a great place to work.” To help, new maritime academies are springing up, like the Maritime High School in Seattle. And while the industry can barely keep up with current demand, new opportunities are on the horizon with the development of offshore wind farms, which could help attract a younger, environmentally conscious crop of workers, per the Everett Herald. (More shipping stories.)

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