BC Ferries struggles to attract qualified mariners amid global shortage, employee poaching
Growing demand 'just going to mushroom,' says expert
Travellers on BC Ferries are feeling the impacts of a global shortage of experienced mariners, as the corporation struggles to hire more than 100 new staff members.
"We are actively recruiting for approximately 60 officer and 50 other key positions," said Mark Collins, BC Ferries president and CEO, in a statement. "Unfortunately, the global shortage means qualified mariners are very difficult to find."
Two sailings between Victoria and Vancouver were cancelled Wednesday evening because of staffing shortages, and Collins said BC Ferries was challenged to find replacement personnel on short notice.
The ripple effect of staffing issues is being felt around the world as demand for skilled seafarers outpaces supply. Shortages of captains, first mates, chief engineers and even entry-level seafarers has become acute.
In large part, the qualified pool is diminishing due to aging and retirements. A report by the Seafarers' International Union in 2019 said 20 per cent of its membership was set to retire in five years.
The Seafarers' most recent report estimates that by 2026, an additional 89,510 officers will be needed to operate the world merchant fleet and there currently exists a shortfall of 26,240 certified officers.
Capt. Philip McCarter, associate dean of BCIT's marine department, says the school actively promotes and markets its seafaring programs, but it can be an uphill battle attracting students to a field that doesn't tend to get much limelight.
"It's a tough competitive marketplace to try and hook these young people to at least enter the profession and then stick with it," McCarter said.
Students graduating from marine programs at BCIT are immediately snapped up, McCarter says. But once an employee is firmly planted in the industry, others in the sector will be actively trying to poach them from their employers.
"Shipping companies are hungry for them," McCarter said. "Incentives become important, not just salaries but work-life incentives."
BC Ferries is right in the midst of that tough, competitive environment as it moves to hire more than 100 staff. McCarter says the company is aggressive in making sure staff are well looked after, with the added bonus that they aren't out at sea for months on end.
But it may all be for naught — as travel restrictions ease and the cruise industry gets back on its feet — employee poaching will intensify.
"It's just going to mushroom," McCarter said.