Head of Washington ferries says cross-training could be important step forward
It’s the ferry alert that no rider wants to receive: the dreaded cancellation because of a lack of staff.
A few years ago it was happening a lot more than it does today, but staffing is a huge issue facing the ferry system.
It can be difficult to attract young workers who can make more money faster by joining fishing fleets. It can take a decade or more to go from the bottom to the captain’s chair, and new workers have to work on-call shifts and tough hours.
Amy Scarton, the new head of the ferry system, says she has a recruitment blitz planned.
“How do we attract the next generation of ferry workers,” she asked. “How do we train and retain the ones we have? That’s top on my list.”
Boats don’t sail if they don’t have the mandatory minimum staff, as required by the Coast Guard.
“We could have the best boats in the world, the best docks in the world, but if you don’t have the crews for them or the people back in headquarters providing those support services, were not going to sail,” she said.
And Scarton doesn’t plan to sit in the office and look for ways to fire-up potential employees. She is going to get her hands dirty and find out what it takes to do the job so she can better sell the careers.
“I am going to take Ordinary Seaman training in May,” Scarton said. “I’m not going to just do the training where there is firefighting and emergencies and life-saving and in-water work. I want to eventually get credentialed. Who knows? If we’re in a pinch, I could get called-up.”
This is part of Scarton’s plan to make ferry workers more flexible. If the head of the ferry system can pull an on-call shift, why can’t the dock worker be trained to handle a boat shift or visa versa? She wants her workers to be able to handle more than one job.
“It’s cross-training the folks that we have,” she said.
It’s all with the goal of making the system more efficient and effective.
The ferry system sets a 95-percent on-time goal. In 2015, the system came in just under that at 94.5 percent.