Recruiting The Workforce Of Tomorrow

By Tom Ewing  |  Operations

Royal Canadian Navy Leads Inaugural Career/Workforce Expo

The aligned issues of maritime workforce development and employee recruitment are receiving high level and extensive attention. The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), the Canadian Marine Careers Foundation and other marine sector partners have collaborated to host the first Great Canadian Marine Careers Expo. This inaugural event was really a series of events, all free and open to the public, held at 10 ports throughout the eastern Great Lakes region, starting in late September and continuing until mid-November.

The Royal Canadian Navy is the Expo’s official organizer. The Navy scheduled the HMCS Glace Bay, a coastal defense vessel used for a range of duties, from search and rescue to minesweeping, to participate and to open for public tours at each port on the Expo’s itinerary. Following the Canadian union strike, the Navy readjusted the original expo schedule and suspended plans for the Glace Bay to attend remaining events.

Building Connections

Monteal Gateway Terminals booth (Photos courtesy of CanadianMarine Careers Foundation)
Montreal Gateway Terminals booth (Photos courtesy of Canadian Marine Careers Foundation)

The event was still a success despite the slight disruption caused by the strike. In addition to the Navy, the Expo provided opportunities to connect directly with Government of Canada employers as well as private sector companies, maritime organizations and training institutions.

Julia Fields is the executive director of the Canadian Marine Careers Foundation, a membership organization focused on building and expanding Canada’s maritime workforce. The Foundation is well known for its “Imagine Marine” campaign which works to increase awareness about maritime opportunities and actively link jobseekers with employment.

In Canada, more than 100,000 individuals work in the marine sector. Forty-three percent are set to retire in the next decade. “We have thousands of vital roles to fill,” Fields commented about the Expo, “Canada’s extensive coastline and waterways mean the marine sector plays an enduring role in shaping our nation. We hope that this Expo will help build awareness of the many rewarding career opportunities that are available.”

Fields said efforts to publicize the Expo and build attendance were high priorities. High school students are one cohort important to all employers, since a young person’s value usually increases when he or she finds work satisfying and, consequently, stays on and becomes increasingly skillful and experienced.

Fields said that in preparation for the Expo, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) and the Foundation reached out to schools in and around the Expo locations. “We emphasized that participation in the event was entirely free,” she said, “and we highlighted the unique opportunities the Expo presents, such as the chance for groups to tour a Navy vessel and engage in direct conversations with professionals from various sectors of the Canadian marine industry.”

Prior to each event the Foundation contacted port authorities and other local employment groups. A primary goal was to ensure that everyone was well-informed in advance and that organizers could then be ready to follow up with specific details for local networks and communities seeking additional information.

Variety of Positions Available

Fields said the industry is looking for people interested in entry-level maritime positions, i.e., crew-based positions that don’t require a college or engineering degree.

She noted there are extensive entry level openings among maritime employers – on-board vessels, in shipyards and terminals and with waterway operators, such as the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation. Many of these starting positions offer a career pathway, especially now considering retirement projections.

For the Expo, the Foundation developed a series of educational materials which, Fields said, “detail various marine career pathways, including direct-to-job streams as a gateway to fulfilling careers in the marine industry.” The materials included scannable codes directing readers to a series of career resources, including the Foundations new marine careers job board. Fields noted that any attendee could access real-time listings of open direct-to-job positions.

In addition, Expo organizers contacted local media in advance of an event and the Foundation developed social media ads to build awareness and participation. Fields noted that this was an inaugural event, the first such Expo, at least for this coalition. “This Expo was a foundational phase for future events for both the Foundation and the Navy,” she said.

In addition to overall attendance, Fields said Expo partners were tracking “onsite engagements with job seekers and high school students, media and social media awareness.”

Companies Have High Hopes

Monteal Gateway Terminals booth (Photos courtesy of CanadianMarine Careers Foundation)
Montreal Gateway Terminals booth (Photos courtesy of Canadian Marine Careers Foundation)

Captain Gerald Ray is president of Lower Lakes Towing, Ltd., based in Port Dover, Ontario. Lower Lakes Towing (LLT) started in 1994 as a small tug and barge operator. Today, in Canada, LLT operates a fleet of five self-unloading bulk carriers and one conventional bulk carrier. In the United States, LLT works with a sister company, Grand River Navigation, to operate a combined fleet of 16 vessels transporting dry bulk commodities for customers in the construction, electric utility, integrated steel and food industries.

Capt. Ray said the Expo offered him a chance to introduce his company and the maritime industry in general, which, he said, is “slow in promoting itself.” The Expo helped attract a range of potential applicants, he said, “from high school students interested in sailing to career changers, people can come here and do really well.” He said his team encourages all candidates, including women and minorities, who he tries to connect with peers to serve as role models and mentors.

For LLT, the Expo is one part of a larger outreach and recruitment effort. In addition to high school visits the company has a work program for two students each summer, which, Ray said, has been very successful. For LLT, Ray cited two workforce goals: one, to fill vacancies now; second, build awareness about maritime employment across the larger working population.

Montréal Gateway Terminals Partnership (MGT) specializes in container transit between international markets and central North America. MGT participated at the mid-October event in Montreal.

Lower Lakes Towing flyer (Photos courtesy of CanadianMarine Careers Foundation)
Lower Lakes Towing flyer (Photos courtesy of Canadian
Marine Careers Foundation)

Human resources coordinator Katheryne Cyr said MGT’s primary goal in the Expo was to build a depth of potential applicants and to enhance the company’s visibility within the industry.

The Expo connected MGT with people interested in land-based maritime careers, Cyr said, helping MGT to “nurture relationships with potential candidates for future positions and make our presence more widely known.”

Cyr noted a “significant turnout” in attendance at the event in Montreal.

Canadian Steamship Lines (CSL) also attended the inaugural Expo in Quebec City, Montreal and Hamilton. CSL, based in Montreal, with over 1,500 employees, has over 96 vessels in its global fleet and it is the world’s largest owner and operator of self-unloading vessels.

Recruitment and workforce development are important issues at CSL. The company utilizes its website to promote job openings, as well as details about CSL’s global outreach and diverse employee environment.

For CSL, the Expo provided a valuable opportunity to fill current job openings—on vessels and among their office staff—and to build a reserve applicant pool. “The current employment landscape in the marine industry has prompted us to expand our outreach efforts to a wider audience,” said Stéphanie Aubourg, chief human resources officer for CSL. “We believe it’s crucial, now more than ever, to highlight the diverse and promising opportunities that the marine industry offers.”

Aubourg said that CSL actively seeks showcase events like the Expo. This was the first time the company has partnered with the Navy, but she said that CSL was pleased to be invited and the company is eager to participate in similar, future events.

In addition to the Expo, CSL recently visited a high school in the Niagara region to meet with students and describe maritime careers. The company is also involved in a partnership project with the Marine Careers Foundation for students in grades five to eight. CSL designed a presentation – “Life Onboard a Laker” – which presents and explores crew members’ work experiences. These activities, Aubourg said, “are essential to ensure a consistent pool of prospective candidates for our organization.”

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