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 Feature Industry Articles 
Monday, June 03 2019
Ports Large and Small Initiating Workforce Development Programs

By Aaron Ellis, APR, Fellow PRSA, Public Affairs Director, American Association of Port Authorities

Seaports, large and small, are developing programs to introduce their community’s youth, together with new and transitioning job seekers, to the diverse, technology-focused and family-sustaining career opportunities available in the maritime and seaport environment. 

A just-released economic impacts analysis of the U.S. coastal port system by Martin Associates (Lancaster, Pennsylvania), cites the average annual salary for those employed at America’s seaports has risen to $62,800 from $53,723 just five years ago. The number of jobs that seaport activities support also jumped from 23.3 million to 30.8 million in the same time frame. 

The Port of Los Angeles, America’s largest-volume container port, cites numerous reasons why it has chosen to focus time and resources on creating a world-class workforce development program.  

First, the impact of any disruption in the goods movement industry can be huge, and a skilled, well-trained workforce to fill the diverse occupations in the port industry helps prevent those disruptions. Second, the port wants to assist those interested in maritime industry careers to receive the necessary training, as well as to “re-skill” and “up-skill” the incumbent workforce. Third, due to expected cargo volume growth, skilled worker retirements and turnover in the transportation sector, it wants to encourage today’s youth, who may be unaware of the unique and lucrative job opportunities available in the maritime industry, to consider the possibilities. 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 2019 is the first year this century in which there are more U.S. job openings – seven million – than there are unemployed people to fill them. This presents a large-scale skills scarcity and a major obstacle for the success of many U.S. businesses, including public port authorities and their maritime industry partners that support an estimated 30.8 million American jobs.

The irony of this situation is that while America’s ports are competing for qualified candidates to fill positions ranging from longshore workers, drayage truckers, welders and mechanics, to data analysts, security personnel and energy-efficiency specialists, there’s an estimated 3.5 million unemployed, working-age individuals who aren’t even searching for jobs.

The challenges of filling these positions are intensified as more businesses require four-year college degrees for jobs previously filled by high school or two-year community college graduates. To make matters worse, the cost of finishing a bachelor’s degree program has more than doubled over the past three decades, making a four-year degree unaffordable for those of modest means without scholarships, grants or long-term student loans. 

The Value of Apprenticeships and Internships

To help bridge the gap between availability of quality jobs and the degree requirements to fill them, many ports and their private-sector partners are embracing a centuries-old concept—apprenticeships. By combining on-the-job training with supplementary education to prepare workers for jobs in the maritime industry, apprenticeships are helping align the needs of employers with those of prospective employees. Additionally, apprenticeships are laying a foundation for retraining workers whose jobs have been, or will be, disrupted by technology. 

Among the workforce development initiatives being undertaken by the Port of Seattle is establishment of regional construction partnerships. The goal is to bring women and people of color, particularly youth, into pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship training opportunities. 

In 2016, Port of Seattle staff evaluated demand for a skilled trade workforce and found that, by 2021, there will be a projected shortage of 4,100 skilled workers in the fast-growing Seattle metropolitan area. Moreover, by 2042, demand for high-wage, skilled construction workers is estimated to overtake supply by about 10 percent. This will increase the difficulty of recruiting and retraining workers in the manufacturing and maritime sectors since jobs in these sectors compete with those in the construction trades for qualified applicants. 

So, in 2017, the port coordinated with other local municipalities and public agencies to advance a Regional Public Owners (RPO) Construction Trades Partnership. After a successful pilot resulted in training 35 applicants for apprenticeships, 25 of them got jobs in their chosen field. After the pilot, the partnership cooperatively entered into a two-year, $2.2 million contract for construction worker outreach, training and retention services, in which the port’s share is $1.2 million and the city and county’s share is $1 million. 

In a Port of Seattle survey on maritime-related workforce development opportunities and challenges, it found that the jobs in highest demand are those for welders, marine system techs, pipefitters, marine electronic specialists, diesel mechanics and refrigeration/HVAC technicians. It also found high demand for marine and mechanical engineers, naval architects and project managers, as well as Coast Guard-licensed, operating on-board engineers for sea-going vessels.  

To build off these findings, the port partnered with two other organizations to conduct focus groups.  These groups cited several challenges facing maritime industry training providers. They include: 1) the industry’s diverse sub-sectors require different workforce training strategies; 2) a history of informal, on-the-job training by mariner guides, and; 3) a splintered group of employers that make it hard to coordinate on recruitment or workforce training initiatives. Consequently, the port decided to make its highest priority getting younger and nontraditional populations into maritime apprenticeships and jobs. 

Another large container port, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, focuses on getting internships for high school and college level students, in addition to hosting job fairs, providing guest speakers for supply chain management classes, and doing outreach on how to enter targeted careers, such as those of seafarers and pier superintendents. On the academic front, the port is also connecting employers with curriculum developers to ensure tomorrow’s skills and competencies are integrated into their lesson plans. 

After a six-month study by its Port Performance Task Force, the New York/New Jersey Port Authority formed the Council on Port Performance (CPP) in 2014 to provide oversight on implementing programs and initiatives that improve the port’s efficiency and service reliability. In mid-2017, the port authority identified workforce issues as something for the CPP to address and formally launched the Workforce Development Implementation Team at that time. Their priorities were memorialized in the 2018 CPP Work Plan. The council subsequently identified workforce development as one of its six priorities, with a focus on helping fill new transportation, logistics and distribution jobs with regional residents. This year, the port plans to launch a teacher’s boot camp, build awareness and opportunity through registered apprenticeship programs (particularly for diesel mechanics and drayage truck drivers) and explore technology uses to connect the port’s employer network with host communities’ talents.  

Workforce Development Partnerships Key Factor in Success

Melanie (“Mel”) Arsenault, external affairs director for Mississippi’s Port of Gulfport, is leading that port’s workforce development efforts and its goal of creating 1,300 new jobs.

Among the Port of Gulfport’s workforce development program “Smart Start” partners are its local school district and community college, the state’s Department of Employment Security, the Biloxi Housing Authority, EPA’s Gulf of Mexico program and the Southern Mississippi Planning and Development District. Port staff are actively involved in the program, helping school students with classroom presentations, work-based learning opportunities, career events and other activities, frequently inviting media to help raise public awareness throughout the Gulf Coast.  

“With all our partners, we meet to develop a plan at the beginning of the year and set goals for what we want to accomplish,” she added. “We also hold periodic ‘check-in’ meetings to measure our progress, and meeting with our school partners on a weekly basis.”

California’s Port of Oakland also relies on partnerships for its landmark Seaport Operations Jobs Policy. It’s a collaborative partnership between the port, CenterPoint Properties (which is developing the port’s Seaport Logistics Complex at the former Oakland Army Base), and two major community coalitions – Revive Oakland and Oakland Works – and provides community members with priority access to family-sustaining jobs and economic opportunity. The port has also established the 13-member Jobs & Workforce Development Stakeholder Working Group to make recommendations related to planning and programming of non-construction jobs and workforce initiatives at the port. It comprises various port staff and members of CenterPoint properties, Revive Oakland, Oakland Works, the Unity Council’s One-Stop Career Center, unionized labor, a port private-sector employer and a local area workforce development provider. 

“We work with the West Oakland Jobs Resource Center, a community resource for training local residents to prepare them for the workforce,” said Julina Bonilla, the port’s full-time workforce development manager who coordinates with job agencies that connect local workers to port projects. “We envision our program will serve as a workforce community model for the nation over the next two to five years. The port’s investment in supporting local job development and growth, education and career training is vital to our community and a way to ensure that local residents and families thrive.”

Replicable Workforce Programs

While many of the workforce development initiatives that America’s seaports are undertaking provide great career training, internships, apprenticeships and job placement opportunities, many have origins in other maritime-related workforce programs. For example, shipbuilding, fabrication and repair giant Vigor Industries, with facilities in Oregon, Washington and Alaska, offers workforce program features that some port authorities have emulated.

To fill a skill gap for highly-trained, entry-level welders in the shipyard sector, Vigor approached local community colleges in Portland and Seattle to partner in creating its successful maritime welding programs. Vigor’s welding programs not only help the colleges attract students, they support local economies by providing, and training for, living wage jobs that benefit people who are often in disadvantaged positions. 

“We hope this program contributes to Vigor’s continued success as the Pacific Northwest’s and Alaska’s leading provider of shipbuilding, complex fabrication, ship repair and conversion,” said Sue Haley, the company’s executive vice president of human resources and administration. “Vigor has already benefitted greatly from hiring welding program graduates, many of whom have successfully advanced internally to other positions.”

Vigor bore the initial cost to build and outfit on-site training space in its Seattle and Portland locations. “We lease the space back to the community colleges at modest rates, provide scrap steel and aluminum to support the programs, and assist the colleges with other maritime-specific training, like fall protection, fire watch, etc.,” said Ms. Haley. “We also use these centers to provide skill upgrades for current employees and to certify new welders.”

She noted that the community colleges have done a great job in taking responsibility for the program and the success of the students. “It’s truly a mutually-beneficial partnership.”

At the Port of Long Beach, America’s second-busiest container port, the most prominent aspects of its varied workforce development programs are drawn from local industry participation for both port-related and non-port-related. 

“We’re working closely with our industry partners to encourage and enable their participation in our high school and college level career development programs. For example, we’re creating industry advisory boards that facilitate buy-in and active participation,” said Kerry Gerot, director of Communications and Community Relations. “The Port of Long Beach aims to provide the necessary training for good-paying local jobs in the goods movement industry for the people living in our city and the surrounding communities. Our education outreach and workforce development programs promote an awareness and understanding of port operations, along with the port’s significance as an economic engine and environmental steward that supports jobs.” 

The length of training and education opportunities through the Port of Long Beach vary, depending on the type of career that participants are pursuing in goods movement, international trade and environmental sustainability. “We support a host of programs that include a high school learning pathway, a job-training program with Long Beach City College, internships, scholarships, teacher externships, tours and special events,” said Ms. Gerot.

Neighboring Port of Los Angeles also researched workforce programs from a variety of industries and organizations before developing its own. According to Port of Los Angeles Director of Labor Relations and Workforce Development Avin Sharma, port officials found “openness” (the willingness to share successes and challenges) to be one of three defining characteristics they wanted to emulate in the workforce programs offered by the New York/New Jersey port authority and the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association. The other two defining features the Los Angeles port found in these organization’s programs were good “communications” between the port and industry stakeholders, and overall “efficiency” in the space used for their training programs. 

Measuring Success

When asked how they plan to measure, or are measuring, the success of their workforce development programs, most ports cited, among other things, the number of people they hope their programs will attract, and eventually place, into new, skilled jobs or apprenticeships. 

The Port of Gulfport has two success measurement objectives: 1) to meet or exceed the 51 percent Community Development Block Grant’s low-to-moderate income level for participants getting jobs through the port’s program, and; 2) that 300 or more total program participants receive a National Career Readiness Certificate at least at the bronze level. 

The Port of Seattle has four priorities for measuring the success of its maritime workforce system: 1) increase awareness of maritime occupations and job opportunities to targeted individuals utilizing its website, social media platforms and speaker’s bureau; 2) develop clear career pathways to inform students, parents, incumbent workers and the maritime industry of marine-related occupations throughout the Puget Sound region, using program guides, mapping points of entry, and partner employers who offer pre-apprenticeship opportunities; 3) support a consortium  of program providers to develop a talent pipeline among youth who have greater awareness for, and interest in, maritime-related career roles, and; 4) support development of the port’s Core Plus maritime curriculum program for students K-12. 

For baseline numbers, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s workforce program team found that in, its inaugural year, about 775 students gained greater awareness of the port’s programs through its events, port tours, and career panel discussions. Additionally, the port connected 850 job seekers to transportation, logistics and distribution employers. Currently, the port’s team is conducting an analysis of its local transportation and warehousing sector to get a better handle on the jobs available and skills required. To do that, they’re using current and historical monthly economic indicator reports from various sources, including the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs numbers. 

The Port of Long Beach said it’s tracking the progress of its educational outreach and workforce development initiatives by constantly reviewing which programs and activities were most utilized and effective in raising awareness of the port’s programs and building job opportunities for prospective employees. It then updates or revises its programs, as needed. The port also examines current trends in education, international trade and goods movement, then uses that information to develop jobs training curriculum that will prepare students for in-demand occupations in engineering, logistics and other goods movement industry fields. Specifically, the port is measuring success by the:

  • Graduation rates, student GPAs and internship placements of its Port of Long Beach Academy of Global Logistics at Cabrillo High School;
  • Number of internships and job placements from its Port of Long Beach Maritime Center of Excellence at Long Beach City College; 
  • Increase in maritime industry understanding and intent of students who want to pursue a maritime-related career from participation in its Summer High School Internship Program, and;
  • Amount of financial disbursements or attendance in its other workforce programs. 

The Port of Oakland plans to measure the success of its new, multi-year workforce development program, which is just getting started, by adopting a landmark policy regarding who gets the much-sought-after jobs generated through its Seaport Logistics Complex. By effectively implementing and enforcing this policy, at least 50 percent of the jobs generated by the project will go to Oakland residents, including those in the port’s Local Impact Area, comprising Oakland, San Leandro, Alameda and Emeryville. The Oakland Board of Port Commissioners agreed on a set of community benefits as part of the terms and conditions of the Seaport Operations Jobs Policy. As part of the logistics center lease agreement with CenterPoint Properties, it defines the role of the West Oakland Job Resource Center and the funding provided for that center. Furthermore, the port has authority over monitoring and enforcing responsibilities for the center, including review of work qualifications that are subject to employer background checks and ensuring employer compliance. 

AAPA’s PPM® Program Helps Aspiring Port Leaders

While port authority executives are busy developing workforce programs to aid job seekers in their regions get the training they need to transition into today’s technology-laden maritime professions, the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) is working to help these same executives gain the skills and experience they need to transition into senior management positions within their respective organization.

AAPA’s Professional Port Manager Program (PPM®) is built on a foundation of interactive class-room-based, instructor-led sessions held over a four-year term where participants have access to the best and brightest thought leaders in the maritime industry. Covering all aspects of port management, these interactions enable candidates to become more seasoned professionals.

The PPM® Program’s mission is to prepare the next generation of port leaders for the future.

“Port authorities increasingly expect their executive team members to work across departments, collaborating with colleagues from different work backgrounds and areas of knowledge,” said Dr. Noel Hacegaba, PPM®, chair of AAPA’s Professional Development Board and Port of Long Beach’s deputy executive director of Administration and Operations. “While a healthy strategic plan and team building exercises can ensure everyone is working toward the same outcomes, ports don’t always provide training that ensures senior managers understand each other’s roles and responsibilities.”

PPM® classes attract port authority staff from an array of disciplines, enhancing the learning experience for all participants and uniquely positioning graduates within their own organizations to reduce staff conflicts, lead multidisciplinary programs and streamline staff efforts on critical projects.

“By attending a wide variety of AAPA seminars focused on key line departments, as well as executive management and marine terminal management training programs, PPM® candidates achieve an unparalleled understanding of their coworkers’ and counterparts’ roles,” remarked Dr. Hacegaba.

AAPA continues to build on its slate of professional development programs—from individual seminars and “Ports 101” certifications, to industry apprenticeship programs and active engagement in federal workforce development programs.  For example, the association is holding its first Workforce Development Summit, June 25-26, 2019, at Long Beach City College, featuring presentations from port executives and HR professionals, together with college and university educators.  As the voice of the port industry, AAPA facilitates and actively engages those charged with expanding the maritime workforce.

While the future of education is evolving, opportunities will expand to recognize the range of needs. From high school graduates to seasoned port professionals, skills-building is essential. The port industry looks forward to continuing to create awareness for port-related careers and enhancing opportunities to join the ranks of people fostering the growth and success of the maritime industry. 

About AAPA:

The American Association of Port Authorities is the unified voice of the seaport industry in the Americas, representing more than 130 public port authorities in the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America. For more than a century, AAPA membership has empowered port authorities and their maritime industry partners to serve global customers and create economic and social value for their communities. Our events, resources and partnerships connect, inform and unify seaport leaders and maritime professionals who deliver prosperity around the western hemisphere. For its U.S. members, AAPA provides compelling advocacy and effective public outreach to influence seaports’ most urgent public policy issues. Today, AAPA continues to promote the common interests of the port community, and provides critical industry leadership on security, trade, transportation, infrastructure, environmental and other issues related to port development and operations. 

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