Statistics: The Perfect Storm

By Eric Peters

Maritime Employment: The next three to five years could be a defining era for the Maritime industry. That’s because, in the United States, demand for skilled/technical labor continues to increase in an industry seeing less and less graduates and adequately trained new career professionals entering the workplace. An aging workforce, technological advancements, changing environmental and safety regulations, growth in offshore energy production in the Gulf of Mexico, and the expanded Panama Canal will all impact the business. All of this, coupled with a decreasing volume of Technical Trade Institute or Special Tradesman Programs, as it impacts Human Capital Management within the Maritime industry, will likely create what can be fairly characterized as “The Perfect Storm.”
A chilling report, the Maritime Workforce Study, jointly released in April 2015 by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) and the Louisiana Community and Technical College System (LCTCS), paints both an impressive picture of the depth and power of Louisiana’s maritime industry, but at the same time, a dire warning of what could come if training, recruitment and retention efforts in this vital sector are not stepped up. And, Louisiana is just part – albeit an important one – of the domestic maritime industry. LABI is a Louisiana-based business advocacy group representing more than 2,200 member businesses of every size, sector and region. LCTCS provides strategic management and support for Louisiana’s 13 community and technical colleges and more than 100,000 students.
Generational Gap: The vast majority of Maritime companies in the U.S. will continue to hire over the next 3-5 years, but during the next 10 years, up to 50% of this workforce will retire. With fewer maritime graduates opting for a life at sea and those that do, coming ashore earlier than ever before, a technical knowledge vacuum – the generational gap – will form and, without measures to address it, will be difficult if not impossible to overcome. Many factors influence this lack of new talent coming into the industry including demand for work/life balance, social media influence, increased regulations to the industry, criminalization of mariners, increased certification/educational requirements, lack of direction from offshore to onshore career path and poor communication of “passing the torch” within organizations. On the skilled trade side, education isn’t the issue. Rather, the lack of communication to those individuals at the high school graduate level (who need to be recruited and informed as to what opportunities could be out there for them through various technical/vocational training) is the real culprit. In many respects the maritime industry does a poor job of telling its story, and when it does, the message is not adequately disseminated to those who could best benefit from it.
Employed vs. Employable: More and more, companies are looking to change their personnel metric from a fixed cost to a variable situation. This introduces the continued use of contract labor, which is growing at an all-time high in the Maritime industry. That’s because, work in the Marine and Offshore industry is increasingly becoming project related in nature, thus creating a need to bring on individuals with a specific skill set for a detailed timeline rather than a continual full-time arrangement. As projects and work flow vary, the employment of staff needs to follow and give companies flexibility in their pricing models and manage costs better. The recent price of oil and the “sting” that still is remembered from the economic collapse of 2008-2010 has pushed more organizations to look at this model. Employees in the Maritime industry will need to embrace this model going forward as the new standard. Hence, with certain roles and functions, it is no longer just about being employed on a full-time basis, but rather having the skills, credentials, references and ability to be employable on a contract or project basis. As a minimum, maritime professionals need at least need to be open to entertaining the idea.
Oil Prices?: Whereas the current price of oil has impacted many businesses, at least for the short term, many sectors of the Maritime Industry continue to grow. The Gulf of Mexico, for example, will see a historic boom in oil production over the next two years, led both by new offshore projects and redevelopment of older oilfields, according to Energy Information Administration (EIA) projections. Expansion of US exports and federal funding has given new life to Port and Terminal Expansion along the coastline. Furthermore, existing workforce shortages may be complicated by the historic growth in manufacturing and in the petro-chemical industry, which will frequently occur on or near waterways and affect maritime workers, operations, and companies. As maritime businesses seek to expand and add jobs, projects and investments will be put at risk if a skilled workforce is not on-site to execute. Whereas the oil price has impacted equipment usage and OSV (and other support vessel) scheduling, many of these assets needed repairs and upgrades and so the shipyards have work to sustain them for the remainder of 2015 with hopes that the oil prices rebound in time for them to come out of dry dock.
It’s a good time to be in the Maritime industry and regardless of what analysts are saying, jobs are out there, demand is evident and there is a driving need for more talent in this industry. Companies, Educational Institutions and Employees themselves need to be aware of the challenges facing the collective waterfront and be open to discussions that yield best solutions, as we hope to avoid “The Perfect Storm.”


(As published in the 2Q 2015 edition of Maritime Professional -



Maritime Logistics Professional Magazine, page 10,  Q2 2015

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