The maritime industry is booming, but the workforce is not. A look at the efforts to turn that ship around.
Steel, coffee, natural rubber, poultry and manufactured goods are just some of the products that make the Port of New Orleans one of the busiest ports in the world. Some 6,000 vessels and 500 million tons of cargo travel up and down the Mississippi River each year, including more than half of the country’s grain exports.
Along with impressive cargo figures, the cruise industry is also experiencing success. Last year the port topped 1 million passenger embarkations and disembarkations made from Carnival Cruise Lines, Norwegian Crusie Line and Royal Caribbean.
The port’s cargo activities generate 160,000 direct and indirect jobs and $17 billion in spending statewide. In 2012, $399 million in cruise line spending supported 7,548 jobs in Louisiana.
While all these figures are impressive, this tremendous growth has exacerbated a problem for the maritime industry in Southeast Louisiana – while demand has, and continues to increase, the supply of qualified workers has not.
It’s a common problem for the maritime industry, and it may prevent some corporations from relocating to New Orleans.
According to a Greater New Orleans Community Data Center report, New Orleans workers need stronger abilities in reading, writing, numeracy and computers if they are to adapt to rapidly evolving industries. Yet 27 percent of New Orleans’ workers lack these skills – a rate higher than most U.S. cities.
A recent survey of Louisiana maritime companies showed that many companies hope to hire more than 3,000 workers within the next five years. In an effort to provide well-trained staff for these, and many other positions, the port has been forced to become proactive in finding ways to build a maritime workforce.
“The workforce is definitely aging, and it is not being replaced by the millennials,” says Matt Gresham, the port’s director of external affairs. “So for the past few years, we have had a major outreach program trying to reach out into the community to let the younger generation know what we do here. So many people don’t really realize what goes on behind the floodwalls and levees. We have so many opportunities here – from longshoremen to accountants.”
In October 2014, the port hosted a maritime workforce summit and provided an in-kind match of organizational resources worth approximately $215,000 to the Merritt C. Becker University of New Orleans Transportation Institute. The partnership is focused on promoting economic development throughout the entire maritime community on the Lower Mississippi River by collaborating with stakeholders to enhance community outreach efforts, strengthen the region’s competitiveness and address future workforce needs.
One of the projects involved the development of a web-based, K-12 maritime curriculum that educates students about the history of the Port of New Orleans, its current operations and its international economic impact.
“The port is a huge part of the city’s culture and landscape,” says Kathleen Whalen, the educational consultant who designed the curriculum. “We thought it was important to expand the knowledge the children and youth have about what an important factor the port is to the economy of their city. By showing them what happens at the port, we will help them understand that there are good jobs there.”
Earlier this year, state and local officials also began working on a first-of-its-kind maritime training program in Louisiana, aimed at putting more resources into training people for such jobs as boat captains, deckhands and wheelmen. Delgado Community College is playing a big part in this effort through its Maritime, Fire and Industrial Training Facility. The facility has an international reputation for providing high quality maritime and industrial fire fighting, radar, safety, and U.S. Coast Guard-approved training.
“We work with between 8,000 to 10,000 people per year,” says Rick Schwab, director of the training facility.
The school provides training to licensed mariners and industry personnel in the maritime, oil and gas, and safety and homeland security fields via more than 30 instructors and over 100 courses. It also provides numerous opportunities for people in the industry to get recertification and helps them retain and renew their licenses.
“We work to improve programs for the offshore and inland maritime industry,” says Schwab. “We offer continuing education and help people define clear career paths. We are very proud of our staff. Even with all the state’s budget cuts to education, we remain the preferred choice of vendors. We are still moving forward and I am proud of what we do.”
Delgado is currently expanding its training program by building a modern state-of-the-art facility. On April 24, the college broke ground on the $5.8 million, 20,000-square-foot building designed by Sizeler/Thompson/Brown Architects. It will be constructed by Lemoine Company at 13200 Old Gentilly Road.
“With this new building, we are excited to be reinvesting in New Orleans East,” Schwab says. “We are doubling the size of our classrooms, adding state-of-the-art equipment, like marine simulators, expanding the school’s fire field with additional offshore and radar labs, and adding a conference center.”
The efforts the port has made with UNO and Delgado will likely begin to increase the workforce, but in the meantime, smaller businesses are benefiting where they can. Ricky Green, president of Green Marine & Industrial Equipment Co., which has been serving clients in the marine, offshore and shipbuilding industries since 1961, has found other companies’ layoffs to be his company’s gain – eagerly snapping up the best candidates.
“Green Marine is quite fortunate because we have a loyal and hardworking group of employees who are dedicated to the industry,” he says. “We’ve seen this type of downturn in the past, and we’ve been able to stay strong and persevere during slides in oil prices. Our workforce knows that this industry is very cyclical and has its upturns and downturns.”
The goal for all is that, once again, working at the port will be seen as an obvious career choice.
“As in many industries we see an aging workforce, but we want people to know that this is a good industry to be in,” says Schwab. “A motivated deckhand can become a captain in five years, and the wages for a captain are very good.”
“So many people don’t really realize what goes on behind the floodwalls and levees. We have so many opportunities here – from longshoremen to accountants.”
– Matt Gresham, director of external affairs for the port of new orleans
photo by Tracie Morris Schaefer
The 3,646-passenger Carnival Dream is the Port of New Orleans’ largest year-round cruise ship. The 130,000-ton ship is one of four cruise ships that homeport in New Orleans.
Rendering courtesy of Delgado Community College
A rendering of the state-of-the-art facility Delgado Community College is building in New Orleans East to expand the reach of its Maritime, Fire and Industrial Training program. The facility broke ground April 24.