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Northwest maritime industry starving for workers

(WSDOT)

The Northwest maritime industry is getting nervous as it looks to the horizon and sees its employee base about to retire.

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“Here at Washington State Ferries, this is something that is at near horizon,” said Ian Sterling, a spokesperson for Washington State Ferries. “A lot of our people, especially the more experienced captains and chief engineers, are at retirement age already. They could retire now if they chose to do that. There’s another big group coming up just behind them that will be eligible in the next 5-10 years … It has the potential to be a crisis. It could keep boats from sailing.”

“It’s definitely a major concern for state ferries as it is across all maritime trades,” he said. “What we are seeing is this maritime bubble looming and not enough entry level or younger people willing to step into those positions. So you have this big knowledge base about to leave.”

It’s not just Washington’s ferry system. A generation of sailors, captains and engineers are getting closer to retirement in a range of businesses such as cargo shipping and the tug boat industry. According to The Seattle Times, close to a third of the water transportation workers are older than 55.

The maritime industry is therefore reaching out to younger people at community colleges and marine academies from Ballard to California. Sterling says that the industry has good pay, despite many careers not requiring a college degree. The Times reports that the average maritime worker in Washington earns $67,000.

“It’s not necessarily a college choice; you don’t have to go into college to get one of these jobs and they pay well and it’s a clear career path,” Sterling said. “That said, it’s not Amazon. It’s not the shiny new thing out there developing apps.”

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