By Brian Dunn

One of the biggest challenges facing the transportation and logistics industry is attracting new people to replace an aging workforce set to retire. Attracting and maintaining new recruits is a big part of the mission of the Comité sectoriel de main-d’oeuvre de l’industrie maritime (Human Resources Sectorial Comite of the Maritime Industry), according to its President Claude Mailloux.

The maritime industry in Quebec employs about 13,200 workers in over 360 companies with 47 per cent employed by cargo and passenger shipowners. The sector is growing by two per cent a year and about 2,000 new ship-based and land-based personnel in every category will need to be hired over the next three years to replace retirees, making recruiting that much more urgent, Mr. Mailloux noted. The most difficult positions to fill are first and second officers, head mechanics and second class mechanics and navigation officers, he said in a presentation to a transportation and logistics forum sponsored by the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal on April 17.

“Another problem is that a lot of junior officers don’t progress (up the ranks). And in the last five years, there has been a 28-per-cent drop in registrations for training courses at IMQ (Institut maritime du Québec).”

According to a 2014 poll of officers, the main reasons why so many don’t make it to the top are changes in the industry, including mounds of administrative tasks, on-going training required in a long career, and a work/private life balance that the younger generation finds difficult to adapt to. To help alleviate the problem, the Comité is developing structured programs to attract more candidates, offering courses targeting first officers, making training more accessible by offering courses in more regions of the province and by making the industry more visible.

For example, on March 26 close to 400 secondary school students from the Greater Montreal area enjoyed a day-long event at the port of Montreal hosted by the Comité and Montreal Port Authority. The students visited ships owned by Le Groupe Océan, Groupe Desgagnés and NEAS, toured the port facilities and the St. Lawrence Seaway locks control centre, took part in hands-on workshops, stopped by the Institut maritime du Québec and Maritime Employers Association booths and saw a play on the theme of marine sector careers. The Comité is also trying to recruit more women and immigrants by making training easier and careers more appealing. In addition, the Comité is trying to create a network linking students, IMQ and shipping companies to offer financial aid for studies, internships and a guaranteed two-year work contract upon graduation, which is currently offered by Canada Steamship Lines, according to Mr. Mailloux.

The trucking industry is facing a similar situation with between 1,200 and 1,500 drivers retiring in the next few years, according to Marc Cadieux, President and CEO, l’Association du camionnage du Québec (Quebec Trucking Association). The association is working closely with training centres, colleges and universities to attract new recruits. “We’re an integral part of the logistics chain, but we can’t work without the other partners in the chain,” he commented.

Job training in the sector got a boost in Quebec’s 2015-2016 budget which included $15 million to be spent over the next five years to support trades and training activities in the marine industry. The details of the initiative are expected to be announced in June when the Liberal government’s Maritime Plan is released. It has earmarked a total of $1.5 billion for the maritime sector over the next five years, including $400 million for logistic hubs, including one in Vaudreuil-Soulanges near the Ontario border and in Contrecoeur east of Montreal.

The Vaudreuil-Soulanges area came up for discussion when audience member David Cliche of ACB Consultant suggested that his client, American rail-freight company CSX, which has an intermodal facility in nearby Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, was interested in joining CargoM, the Logistics and Transportation Cluster of Metropolitan Montreal.

That drew a reaction from both CargoM Executive Director Mathieu Charbonneau and Sylvie Vachon, President and CEO, Montreal Port Authority.

While neither has a problem with a logistics hub being established on the western edge of the Greater Montreal Area, it’s the potential link to CSX that is a concern. “The main objective of CargoM is to promote Montreal. The participation of an entity that is not connected (to the port) is problematic,” Mr. Charbonneau said in an interview after the forum. “We’d like to get a clearer picture of a possible link between a logistics hub in Vaudreuil and CSX. We’d also like to see other areas around Montreal being considered for a logistic hub, to divide the pie.”

“But our real competitors are the hubs of New York, Philadelphia and Norfolk. And the real issue is where to put our investments. We’re all for logistics hubs with their own corridors, and companies can decide where they want to locate. But we at CargoM have one specific area to promote.”

Ms. Vachon acknowledged that CSX has asked to become a member of CargoM which is being analysed. But she pointed out that the membership is made up of people who work on behalf of the Montreal logistics hub. She also pointed out CSX is not connected to the Port of Montreal. “Shippers can choose to use the port (of Valleyfield). The question is, will merchandise that arrives by boat at our port be loaded onto a truck to go to Valleyfield, then loaded onto a train remain competitive? If the answer is yes it will work, fine. If the answer is “no” due to costs and delays, that’s another answer.”

Ms. Vachon noted in her presentation that east coast ports like New Jersey/New York, Philadelphia, Virginia and Savannah are spending a combined $7 billion in upgrades. “European shipping companies have plenty of options. When they choose Montreal it’s because of our efficient logistics chain, including CN and CP. The key to success is working together through CargoM which represents all transportation modes and universities which are part of the chain.” The port’s biggest challenge is selling its advantages overseas through agents in the U.S., Europe and Asia, she added.

François Hébert, Vice-President, Corporate Development at CN, does not object to having alternative smaller logistics hubs instead of one large hub. “What we don’t agree with is putting all our eggs in one basket by creating a mega-site in Vaudreuil-Soulanges. That would be a strategic mistake for Quebec which would favour the port of New York.”

In terms of Quebec’s Maritime Plan, most of the talk so far has been around logistics hubs, because that’s where the most job creation will occur, said Mr. Charbonneau.

Montreal could become a more prominent player than it is, and the port should be the number one Eastern Canadian container port for international markets, according to Madeleine Paquin, President and CEO of Logistec, mentioning the new Termont Terminal that will eventually add 600,000 TEUs in new container-handling capacity at the port. And CargoM is a good incubator for new ideas for the industry which needs an integrated strategy similar to that of Port of Savannah. “The vision of ‘build it and they will come’ doesn’t work in transportation. It has been done in the past without any concrete positive results. Customer demand should dictate choices and investments.”