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Canadian seafarer shortage prompts actions from union

Last Updated Oct 10, 2018 at 12:17 pm PDT

(Courtesy Seafarer International Union of Canada via Twitter)

With ~20% of the industry's force set to retire over the next 5 years, Canada's Seafarers Union is looking for workers

Canada's seafarers industry is dealing with a shortage of workers, a union says

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Canada’s seafarers are encountering some rough waters as the industry deals with a shortage of workers.

Around 20 per cent of the industry’s workforce is set to retire over the next five years and fewer young people are stepping up to take their place.

“We’re in a growth spurt,” president of Canada’s Seafarers Union Jim Given said, adding around 90 per cent of the world’s goods are shipped by boat. “We’re in need of that next generation and we’re fighting hard to find them.”

He estimates the industry will need another 300 workers over the next couple years. B.C. only accounts for seven per cent of the current 3,000 Seafarers’ Union members. Another few thousand Canadian workers are non-unionized.

“A lot of it is to be blamed on the industry. We’ve all known that we were going to face shortages on seafarers simply because of retirement and we didn’t put a whole lot of thought into where that next generation was going to come from.”

Earlier this summer, the union, along with the Seafarers Training Institute launched the Be A Seafarer hiring initiative. The first-of-its-kind in Canada initiative offers free training, accommodation, and boasts a guaranteed job on one of Canada’s merchant vessels.

Traditionally students would go through a 15-week course followed by 90 days aboard a ship and then back in school for six weeks, according to Given. The new initiative has narrowed the course down to seven weeks.

“We’re getting the recruits in, making sure they are trained in fire fighting, making sure they are safe to go on board a ship and getting them right to work and then we’ll send them back to school later,” Given said. “We’re very confident that we are sending out safe workers and workers that are trained enough initially to do the entry level jobs.”

The union has a training facility in Piney Point, Maryland and is working to partner with Canadian schools.

The average starting salary is around $60,000 for six months worth of work, according to Given, but he admits the work is not for everyone.

“You have to look at seafaring as a specialty industry. You deal with hard work. You get your hands dirty. You’re in an isolate environment with 15 or 18 other people for extended periods of time. You’re away from home. The ships do have wifi so you’re able to stay connected, but it’s a lifestyle,” he said. “If you love travel, hard work and making money, it’s a good job.”

Given says the union has been able to bring back around 75 trainer seafarers who left the industry for some reason. The goal is to continuously bring in young recruits who can move up the ranks.

“I enjoyed the isolation of being able to go out on the deck of a ship at night,” Given said. “And, it sounds corny, but to have that peace and quiet and look at the stars, I enjoyed it. It gets in your blood.”