As the aging shipping industry jeopardizes the state’s ferries, meet the next generation of diverse sailors

A crew shortage has forced Washington State Ferries to work a reduced alternate schedule during and during the pandemic. Labor shortages in the industry have only worsened, even as the call for new workers has increased. So where is the next generation of sailors?

The aging of the maritime industry has been like a wave on the horizon, slowly growing larger as it rushes towards the shore.

According to Dale Bateman, Associate Dean of the Seattle Maritime Academy, twenty percent of the entire maritime industry is within five years of retirement.

The problem is compounded by the lack of diversity in the industry: it’s hard to attract people when you don’t see anyone like you.

“It’s an industry where it works great until all of a sudden it doesn’t,” he said. “We very quickly reach the “it doesn’t work anymore”. We need new blood in the industry and bringing people from some of these underrepresented communities is a great way for us to bring in new blood, young blood to make some really positive changes.

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It is also difficult to recruit new people when they do not even know that working on boats, ferries and ships is a career choice.

Be honest – when you think of getting into trades, you think electrician, plumber, carpenter, mechanic, and many other options. The maritime industry is probably not in the top 10.

Hana Stevanonic is a 30-year-old oiler for WSF. She started in January after a friend told her about this career path and graduated from the academy in 2020.

“I think there’s a disconnect between going out on a boat and people thinking ‘it’s a cool career but I couldn’t do that,'” she said. “There’s not really a clear path to do that.”

She decided to take the one-year, $10,000 program at Seattle Maritime Academy, even though she graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor’s degree in biology and environmental studies, but careers down that path didn’t seem like it. lead nowhere.

“Careers are between $30 and $40,000 at the entry level, and I don’t really see a salary progression,” she said. “I was serving tables and making about the same amount of money.”

Think about it: two degrees and waiting tables because jobs in his field just couldn’t pay the bills.

“You get two years of accelerated learning in one year,” she said of SMA. “You graduate. You get your QMed, then you go out and start earning immediately. If people knew that, maybe there would be more people here.

The QMed is the Coast Guard requirement for working in an engine room. She worked for a fishing boat in the Bering Sea during her 90-day paid internship and stayed for another eight months because she loved it so much.

Stevanovic earned $10,000 last month working for the ferries, even as an on-call, bottom rung of the ladder, engine room oiler. His goal is to become a chief engineer and earn more than $100,000 by the age of 40.

Jonathan Mosley, 39, says he could have made a different choice two decades ago when he was graduating from high school if he had known this industry was a thing. He joined the Air Force instead, retiring last year.

“If I had the opportunity to go back and say to myself, ‘should I go into the military or should I do something in the trades versus college’, I would choose that instead. than the university. I’m not saying college is bad, but I would say do the trades first,” he said.

Mosley is in the middle of the year-long program at the academy, with a fully paid 90-day sea internship coming up this summer.

“You have a career in place and you’re not struggling with student debt,” he said. “There is no downside.”

He thinks the push to college by parents over the past 50 years has really led to the staffing shortages we see in all industries.

“Our culture pushes to go to college at all costs,” Mosley said. “We almost despise blue-collar industries, even though those pay as much if not more than other jobs that require a master’s degree.”

The Seattle Maritime Academy is hosting an open house on Tuesday, where you can learn all about the maritime industry. There is still room for the next course, which starts in September.

Bateman’s pitch: “You can get a really good job without having a four-year degree. After a year-long program here, you could earn $70-80,000 a year working for Washington State Ferries as an engineer. It’s not a bad concert.

New recruits have to go through the on-call system with the ferries, which has been a deterrent for some, but with current staffing levels the wait for full-time employment isn’t as long as it used to be. Stevanovic started the year number 36 on the guard list. She is now number 19 and there are full-time jobs she can apply for.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.