Hiring Veterans: A Priority in the Maritime Industry
December 1, 2018
The US Maritime Administration (MARAD) estimates that the United States will need an additional 74,000 licensed and unlicensed civilian mariners over the next decade. In recent years, maritime industry stakeholders have made intentional efforts to fill both oceangoing and shoreside positions with military veterans.
They have successfully advocated for change in the legislative realm. Lawmakers on the House of Representatives Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee have hosted three separate listening sessions since March of 2016, with representatives from the maritime industry, Coast Guard and military. These sessions, part of the Military to Mariner (M2M) initiative, focused on addressing the challenges veterans face when transitioning to maritime careers.
According to Richard Berkowitz, a director of operations at the Transportation Institute, who attended the sessions, Congress members "demanded the services make it easier for people to get sea time and to use their training in the military to qualify for civilian ratings."
Thanks to the efforts of Berkowitz and others, the military now recognizes sea time acquired within seven years before leaving the service. Before, Berkowitz said, the cut-off was three.
The listening sessions also prompted the Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee (MERPAC) to identify the top three commercial maritime positions that need immediate attention. These include engineering officers, deck officers and unlicensed engine room personnel. MERPAC has worked to create credentialing crosswalks between these positions and similar ones in the military.
Stepping Up Recruitment Efforts
In addition to lobbying Congress, stakeholders have actively recruited veterans, namely by hosting maritime career fairs throughout the country.
The Transportation Institute is one of multiple organizations that have formed a coalition called the American Maritime Partnership, which represents the interests of the domestic maritime industry. The coalition has sponsored job fairs designed to help current and former service members transition to civilian maritime careers.
Large job fairs, held in major cities from Seattle to Jacksonville, Florida, have offered veterans the chance to meet with recruiters and attend seminars on licensing and training requirements. Through its website, the American Maritime Partnership also offers employers the chance to post their jobs online and connect with veterans who want to enter the maritime industry.
While the American Maritime Partnership has a niche focus, maritime companies have found other ways of connecting with veterans, some of whom may not know they want to enter the maritime industry.
Kevin Moore, director of human resources at Gunderson, said his company uses search firms like Bradley Morris to find veterans with specialized skills. Bradley Morris works with enlisted technicians and officers in the military and connects them with jobs in many different fields of employment.
Companies also use online job sites like Hiring Our Heroes and Work of Honor to find employees.
"Both of these sites are geared toward more personal connections with veterans, so they actually have events that take place, and they have dedicated resources for specific recruitment activities," Moore said.
Job fairs, even if they're not maritime-specific, can help companies establish their brand among veterans. There are several large events held each year in the Pacific Northwest region.
In September of 2018, Gunderson was a joint sponsor of the annual Veterans Stand Down event, held at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon. The company was also one of nearly 100 employers that participated in the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Transition Summit, according to Moore.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord will host another job fair for veterans in January of 2019. Similar fairs will be held this winter in Riverside, California, and San Diego, according to the website RecruitMilitary.com.
"With the types of candidates that we're seeing at these job fairs, the candidate presentation has been superior, in my mind, with how candidates have presented themselves, versus outside of the military recruitment market," Moore said.
For employers who want to get more hands-on, the Department of Defense offers the opportunity to give military members job training before they enter the civilian world. Through Skillbridge, participating companies can put together customized classes, designed for those exiting the service within 180 days.
According to Berkowitz, since trainees receive military pay and benefits while still in the service, organizations don't have to pay them to take courses.
He added that the program offers companies a sophisticated way to train new employees. But despite its potential, Jenny Johnson, supervisor of marine recruiting at Crowley Maritime, said Skillbridge is not fully developed yet.
"It's been presented to us, but it's not at the stage where it's producing mariners," Johnson said.
Creating a Veteran-friendly Environment
Despite expanded recruitment efforts and legislative pressure, Johnson said the process for ensuring a seamless crossover from military to maritime life has a long way to go, especially with respect to seafaring positions.
Much of the experience that veterans gain while in the military still doesn't carry over. For example, veterans receive no credit for firefighting courses they may have taken, since these courses don't occur in Coast Guard facilities. The military, Johnson said, even calculates sea time a bit differently than the commercial maritime sector, so even that doesn't necessarily transfer directly.
To ease the transition, Crowley Marine has started its own in-house training program, known internally as "Build a Mariner." The program trains future mariners for specialized roles on Crowley's fleet of Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships. To fill these key roles, Johnson said, Crowley routinely looks for veterans with special qualifications. For example, logistics specialists in the Navy have many of the necessary skills to become storekeepers on MSC ships.
When a veteran with the right skills applies for a shipboard position, either through a career fair, online job board or other source, Crowley assesses their fitness for its in-house program.
"They can come to us with their basic mariner credential, and if we have a need, we will bring them on and get them all the additional endorsements that they require to sail with us," Johnson said.
These endorsements typically include the MSC-required CBRD, environmental protection and STCW certifications. Some veterans, Johnson explained, spend six months to a year in the program before they can sail. Still, she said, it has proved "very successful" for the company.
According to David DeCamp, who handles media relations for Crowley, giving employees a dedicated space to discuss issues has also been successful. About 18 months ago, Crowley formed employee-led resource groups, including one specifically for veterans.
Each resource group, DeCamp said, contains a steering committee and provides a channel for fellow employees to share their interests or concerns. The veteran resource group, which is among the most popular, provides company leadership with insight on how to recruit former service members.
"We've had a significant influx of employees from a variety of backgrounds, and so it's very important that they have a great place to give us ideas for how we can be a better company. And by doing that we can engage, particularly in the military sector, their great ideas," DeCamp said.
The Benefits of Hiring Veterans
When it comes to the workplace, leaders in the maritime industry can attest to the tangible and intangible benefits veterans offer.
For seafaring positions, they meet many of the crucial standards required for employment, according to Berkowitz. They can pass a urine test, they understand the chain of command and their families are used to them being away. They are also physically fit, making them ideal candidates to work on commercial ships.
"If you're not fit for duty for the military, you won't be fit for the merchant marine. We're looking at the same pool of folks," Berkowitz added. "Why make it tough for them, if they're interested, to join us? If they're ready to leave the military, it just makes abundant sense for them to consider a job with us."
Navy veterans who enter the merchant marine even enjoy certain benefits they didn't have before, such as access to their own cabins and the ability to pick their ship. For these reasons, Berkowitz said, many military veterans are usually happy with their jobs.
Veterans also offer value from a human resources perspective, regardless of whether they serve in seafaring or shoreside jobs. Gunderson experiences the same challenges many maritime companies face in finding committed employees, Moore explained.
Moore spoke highly of Gunderson's veteran employees, regardless of whether they were hired through a job board, career fair or other source. Most of all, he touted the high level of effort they put into their jobs day in and day out.
"What we're seeing is there's a lot of inconsistencies with the people that we're bringing in and hiring, and we don't see that in veterans, we see people showing up to work on time, committed to the job and just committed to the overall organization," Moore said.