Mark Wilson - "the voice of maritime skills shortage in Canada" - writes this piece for Canadian Sailings Magazine issue of Sept 2006.
Marine industry examines future labour needs.
Regional differences in Canada are as persistent as the solar wind and a lot more boisterous. But it may be a surprise to some that there is cleavage between the East and West Coasts in how the future supply of marine workers is viewed.
On our Pacific shores there is hand wringing over the impending exit
from the workforce of those born to the men and women who took with them into the bedroom the impressive energies they had displayed in the Second World War.
By contrast, there is confidence in Montreal and Halifax that recruitment to provide replacement workers and additional hires will prove adequate.
British Columbia's forecasts of looming shortfalls in labour supply in all departments of the marine sector
are contained in a comprehensive survey done by Roslyn Kunin & Associates for the Western Marine Community Association.
As Jeremiah-in-Chief, Dr. Ros Kunin calls for "an awful lot of very effective action to be taken immediately," if the West Coast marine industry is not to come a cropper.
The Kunin survey estimates employment in the B.C. marine sector in 2005 at 16,500 full-time jobs. Employment could grow by 10 per cent a year, if suitable applicants can be found. industry entrants over the next 10 years could number near 7,500, equal to 35 per cent of the current workforce.
This is a stiff challenge and must be met by an industry in which higher skill and performance levels must offset increased per capita investment costs.
One answer, Dr. Kunin suggests, is to capture more skilled workers from offshore.
"Canada, in common with other developed countries, is not producing the number of workers it needs for the marine sector and other industries. There needs to be freer movement of trained personnel between countries and readier acceptance of credentials obtained elsewhere if we are not to face a serious problem," she told Canadian Sailings.
This encouragement of an influx of immigrants with appropriate job skills needs to be accompanied by an expansion of training programs for those born here.
Given the aggressive adoption of these two remedies, Dr. Kunin is moderately optimistic that the West Coast marine industry can satisfy its recruitment needs. The alternative, in her view, is dire: "if the marine industry doesn't get serious about human resources it will come to an end."
Rick Bryant, president of the Chamber of Shipping of British Columbia, claimed that the realities of an aging workforce are now generally appreciated.
The retirement of the cohort born in the immediate post-war period affe.cts all areas of the marine sector, some more severely than others.
According to the Kunin report, even the most favourably placed sectors of the industry are already experiencing mild problems that will become serious within 10 to IS years. Other sectors will encounter severe problems within three to five years.
The concerns even extend to Cape Breton, the fleet maintenance facility at the Esquimalt naval base on Vancouver Island. "The C.O. there is worried that civilian contractors may find themselves short of workers to undertake the maintenance and refit of naval vessels. There has been one meeting on the issue and another is planned," Capt. Bryant said.
These talks could lead to the setting up of a human resources sectoral council partnered by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC), which is involved in similar endeavours in more than 30 other industries.
Separately, the West Coast Marine Community Association, which held a oneday conference in the spring on recruitment and training issues, is preparing a report for HRSDC that will contain an abridgement of the Kunin survey and note recruitment and training efforts underway or planned.
One training initiative that failed to launch was a proposal for a cadet program put forward by the western branch of the Canadian Merchant Service Guild to Washington Marine, the major towboat operator on the West Coast.
Guild business agent Guy Beaulieu said: "Joy Thomson (a fellow guild official) attempted to set up a cadet program with them and was unsuccessful. (Washington) hired a couple of recruits and then let them go. They liked the idea, but they didn't follow through on the detail.
"We face a shortage of ships, officers, and I don't know where we are going to get people from. We have a lot of officers heading into retirement and an insufficient number of new people coming up behind them.
"Companies that used to have apprenticeship programs have pretty well dropped them for cost-saving reasons. Having apprentices increases crew size, and companies, with rare exception, have reduced crews to the minimum numbers required by Transport Canada," Mr. Beaulieu said.
He exempts BC Ferries and the Canadian Coast Guard from his stricture that the marine industry is taking a shortsighted, cost-driven view of training, or rather the lack of it.
"Maybe companies expect to meet their need for licensed personnel by poaching from others, but where will that lead?" he asked.
Mr. Beaulieu said that the prominence of towboating on the West Coast and the complexities of a ragged coastline make it difficult to follow Dr. Kunin's prescription and recruit certificated personnel from offshore.
"Someone with a master mariner's certificate who has been taking freighters around the world isn't going to be of much help if they show up here. It will be pretty tough for them unless they also have towboating experience and eventhen they will be faced with a long learning curve in these waters," he said.
Ivan Lantz, director of marine operations with the Shipping Federation of Canada, commented that "our industry does not have the keys to the immigration file. Even if there was agreement within the industry about the need, the present government seems to be of a mind to curtail rather than increase immigration. This is a bit confusing, as more employees seem to be needed, in a general sense."
Capt. Lantz said that while recruitment to fill jobs afloat is something of a struggle, the greatest concern is with replacing certificated officers.
He said a common complaint in all realms of the transportation industry, be it marine, commercial aviation, trucking or bus transportation, is that potential entrants are loath to take jobs that take them away from home. "They don't seem willing to travel," he
Frequent information exchanges between waterfront employer groups 'in Montreal and Vancouver haven't stopped the Maritime Employers Association and its counterpart, the B.C. Maritime Employers Association, diverging in their choice of next-generation training equipment.
The Montreal-based MEA, which deals with nearly 1,300 full-time employees and 4,000 casuals in its home city, Hamilton, TroisRivi6res and Toronto, is sticking with updated training simulators provided by MPRI Ship Analytics, of North Stonington, Conn.
The BCMEA deals with 3,878 longshoremen and 451 foremen and their training needs. Like the MEA, the B.C. organization bought its original simulation equipment from a predecessor company to MPRI Ship Analytics and then refreshed it. Now, it has gone shopping in India.
BCMEA president Frank Pasacreta said he believes the two crane simulators that Applied Research International of India is to deliver in November will probably be the most advanced of their kind in the world. They are costing $2.5 million.
The simulators will provide training on four types of equipment: clockside gantry cranes, rubber-tired gantry cranes, ship gantry cranes and pedestal cranes.
Mr. Pasacreta said Vancouver was second only to Los Angeles in its original purchase -of a simulator to train dockside gantry- crane operators. Equipment was later upgraded to make ' Vancouver the first port in the world with
simulator training on four different types of cranes. Image generation, to give greater realism, was boosted, too.
"Now that equipment is obsolete, having outlived its useful life. Replacement was our only option," Mr. Pasacreta said.
MPRI Ship Analytics is a unit of L-3 Communications Corp., of New York. The parent's chief customers are the military, government agencies and companies in the aerospace and communications fields. "We felt that crane simulators were only a small part of the overall business and that resources and time weren't being devoted to their development," Mr. Pasacreta said.
A master mariner who came ashore to head a marine college in Mumbai was the founder of ARI. It specializes in crane simulators and is a leader in its field.
Mr. Pasacreta said the ATI units will offer trainees a wide angle of vision. ATI cameramen have been in Vancouver to film different terminals and regular vessel callers, which will be displayed on the simulators.
"Adding different ship types or even adding a new terminal is a matter of changing the software," Mr. Pasacreta said.
The ATI machines are to go to a temporary home in Vancouver's neighbouring community of Richmond while the BCMEA seeks to develop a permanent training centre, which will probably involve new construction.
In the meantime, the BCMEA executive is finalizing a proposal requesting board approval for the purchase of additional simulators to train operator's-of bomb carts, lift trucks and bWk-handling equipment.
jean 136clard, an MEA vice-president, said his organization has chosen to progressively update its simulation equipment, staying loyal to MPRI Ship Analytics. "We have updated to the highest level and have the same simulation capabilities as Hong Kong and Singapore," he said.
Adequacy of recruitment is not a concern in Montreal, where 200 permanent employees were taken on in 2005.
Mr. B6dard said there was a hiring drought for a number of years, which reflected cargo activity. When hiring resumed, it lowered the average age of the permanent labour force "so now we have much younger individuals operating our top equipment."
Hiring procedures have been refined so that candidates for permanent positions have to pass a medical examination and written and aptitude tests. The rejection rate is about 25 per cent.
This screening has resulted in a noticeable drop in the time needed for candidates to display proficiency during simulator training.
MEA policy for the past 10 years has been to reserve some job slots for women and members of visible minorities. Mr. 136clard said that with the maturing of the program, these hires are advancing to higher-paying work.
While the MEA monitors container handling productivity in other ports, Mr. 136clard is chary of making comparisons with Vancouver. "Montreal is a destination port,"_he said. "We empty an entire ship and fill it back up. Vancouver gets vessels that are dropping off or picking up at another ports. "Its different."
While Mr. Mclard's optimism about meeting future hiring needs is shared byRobert Bonnar, president of Local 2 9 of the International Longshoremen's As!sociation in Halifax, there is no scope for techsavvy chat between the two about the merits of competing models of crane simulators.
"We don't have one and there is no indication from the HEA (Halifax Employers Association) that they are thinking of getting one," Mr. Bonnar said.
Nor does the port have a machinery training area. "We used to have one at Pier 23, but they have taken that for a convention centre. We are quite concerned," he said.
"We had discussions with the HEA over a crane simulator and I don't understand why we don't have one. We believe that the HEA went to the U.S., seeking to rent time on a simulator there, but as we are viewed as the competition by U.S. ports, that didn't go anywhere.
"We have lots of bodies here. It's just a matter of getting them trained," Mr. Bonnar said.
One problem is securing time for trainees to practise on shipboard cranes. One independent container line did cooperate in training but then withdrew from the port.
Mr. Bonnar said that on the recruitment side, the union and employers have moved to a lottery system. Candidates who satisfy certain criteria have their names entered in a draw. "it ensures fairness and moves us away from any suggestion for nepotism," Mr. Bonnar said.
Coming in the fall is an Internet-based approach to raising awareness of job
opportunities in transportation, with spe- il cial attention to careers in the marine industry.
The Western Transportation Advisory Council, an industry-supported body best known for carefully researched reports and high-level conferences, is to start listing employment openings on its website.
Initial funding for the venture is coming from the marine industry and Transport Canada. Ongoing costs will be met in part by companies posting vacancies.
Westac president Ruth Sol said: "We want to bring together job postings in logistics and the marine, rail, trucking and air modes.
"The demographics are unmistakable, so transportation will be competing against:r other industries in a tight labour market. We want to inform high school and college students that transportation and logis-. tics can offer them high-paying jobs."
Westac is joining with the B.C. Institute of Technology, the Alberta Institute of Technology (Calgary), the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (Edmonton) and Red River College (Winnipeg) to reach students who might otherwise overlook ob prospects in transportation.
Westac is sending posters describing the new service to high schools in all four western provinces, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. It plans to make its job pages bilingual.
"Career counsellors appear to have a better awareness of what transportation offers, but the message is still not reaching some students," Mrs. Sol said.
And even if transportation wins the attention of a goodly share, even a dispro- i portionate share, of job seekers, it won't
"We will need immigrants and we will have to broaden our rea ch at home to attract women and visible minorities. We will need to look under every rock and stone," Mrs. Sol said.
On the marine side, the need for immigrants is pressing. Canada's coastal and freshwater shipping isn't yielding a sufficient supply of pilots and shore-based managers.
The United Kingdom, which provided the Port of Vancouver with both its current president and his immediate predecessor, has a much shrunken merchant marine and new talent may have to come from Asian and other countries with large merchant fleets, Mrs. Sol suggested.
"We are not going to make it without immigrants and we are not going to make it if we don't provide adequate training in Canada, as the number of openings for unskilled workers is declining dramatically," she said.
"The transportation industry across Canada provides lots of jobs, maybe 900,000. Many of thesejobs are not in major urban centres and that is valuable when so much job generation is concentrated in big cities."
Dispersed employment opportunities make a good fit with the job needs of First Nations, Mrs. Sol said.
Westac's own estimates of traffic growth suggest the coming pressure on labour supply in Western Canada's transportation industry.
Coal output in the period to 2015 is expected to grow at the rate of six per cent a year, on aver age. Forest product shipments will increase by 2.3 per cent, grains by 2.1 per cent and fertilizer by 1.8 per cent. Given large base volumes, these modest-sounding annual gains will add big tonnages over a decade.
Coal shipments through B.C. ports are expected to more than double to 50.7 million tonnes by 2015, while movements to the U.S. and Eastern Canada will show little change at 5.3 million tonnes.
The Port of Vancouver is on course to handle a record two million 20-foot equivalent units of container traffic this year and the forecast that total West Coast container traffic could hit 5.41 million TEUs by 2015 appears attainable.