By Brian Dunn

The difficulty of attracting and retaining young workers for operational positions continues to challenge shipowners, according to Canfornav, which operates a fleet of 40 ocean-going vessels. “As international shipowners/operators, our vessels operate in different parts of the world and in different time zones, and young people in Quebec are not prepared to commit to more than a 9 to 5 regimen and weekends off,” according to Errol Francis, Vice-President, Operations at Canfornav. “To contrast with Europe, from where we receive several requests for internships every year, the shipping industry there seems to still hold a certain attraction.”

Over the years, the company has had Belgian, German, French, Ukrainian, Russian, Greek, Chinese and Brazilian citizens among others, who have spent at least six months every year with Canfornav as part of their apprenticeship programs. “We have a very vibrant foreign contingent that is happy and excited to be working and learning the business with us, but unfortunately not employable here, as non-residents.” The company tried to fund an introductory course to the marine shipping industry, at Concordia University in 2010, but it was not considered feasible or practical by the university. Vanier College opened a new Transport and Logistics program around the same time, but its curriculum did not fit in with Canfornav’s needs, said Mr. Francis.

One promising initiative, Youth of Shipping (YOS), was started by a group of young people working in the marine industry. It was launched by founding directors Christopher Nolan, chartering manager, Summit Maritime; Stephanie Legault, marketing analyst, CSL Group; Jared Gardner, business development analyst, Fednav International; and Yolanda Boehmer, ship operator, Canfornav.

YOS started out with Mr. Nolan asking some friends out for drinks after work and those friends brought other friends and eventually the group met every second month. It became such a popular and regular outing that the group decided to incorporate YOS in October, 2011 as a non-profit organization whose mission is to increase interaction among young people and newcomers to the shipping industry. YOS has held several events over the past year, including inviting guest speakers such as Gerry Carter, ex- President and CEO of Canada Steamship Lines, Paul Pathy, President and co-CEO of Fednav Limited, and Mr. Francis, to share their shipping experiences with YOS members. Through networking events and speaker sessions, YOS is pursuing it goals of educating Montreal youth about career opportunities in marine shipping, increasing awareness of the industry and connecting the “trailblazers” who have helped to define the Montreal shipping scene with the future leaders of tomorrow.

“We welcome between 50 and 65 people at events where there is a guest speaker. Most are from the industry, but we get a few students from McGill and Concordia,” said Mr. Nolan. “We’re trying to set up a booth at university job fairs, but the universities want to charge us for the space. We’re fortunate to have sponsors from the shipping industry that help us out, including CSL, Canfornav, Fednav, Summit Maritime, High Seas Maritime Agency and Urgence Marine. And (law firm) BGL hosted our last event in April.”

Fednav doesn’t have to worry about recruiting on-board personnel since those jobs are outsourced for its mostly foreign flagged ships. But attracting young candidates for land-based positions represents a challenge, according to Lucie-Marie Gauthier, Vice-President, Human Resources. The company works closely with Quebec’s Comité sectoriel de main-d’oeuvre de l’industrie maritime (CSMO), which represents and promotes the interests of ship and shore workers in the province. One of its main tools is holding career days at various schools, colleges and universities.

CSMO expects to release the results of three studies on June 19 on the different aspects of the industry. One is an update of a sectoral study it does every five years that reveals how many workers are employed in the industry, their age, gender and how many are land-based or ship- based. “The other two are more specific,” explained Claude Mailloux, Executive Director of the provincial agency. “One looks at the integration of immigrants in the industry and the other looks at the integration of women.”

For the last six years, Fednav has hired an average of ten summer students which has become a good recruitment pool, said Ms. Gauthier. “We like to start them in the operations department, but some will start in chartering. They also work on special projects and make presentations to other employees and upper management. For example, we’ll give them a work-related problem and they came back with their solution to the problem.” In addition to these ten students, Fednav typically hires four more senior students as trainees who move from one department to another. “It’s a good way to raise awareness of the different opportunities in the shipping business and when they’re hired, they’re not starting from scratch.”

Like Fednav, Canada Steamship Lines outsources its crewing activities, with such services provided by V.Ships Canada. The challenge of finding crews is becoming more problematic, according to Ernest Beaupertuis, retired crewing manager for V.Ships who continues to consult for the company. “We supply close to 600 personnel for CSL which can climb to 1,000 through rotation and vacation replacement workers. The average age is 51. We recruit through our two unions, (the Canadian Officers Guild, and Seafarers International) and through online job sites like Jobboom and Ceridian. We also deal with organizations that deal with landed immigrants. But we’re still unable to fill all positions as a result of retirements and new ships being added by CSL.”

Crews usually work three months on and one month off, which Mr. Beaupertuis expects will change as young workers demand a more balanced schedule to spend more time with their families. “We’re trying to tap the female market, but very few want that kind of life. There are a lot of females in management, but no female chief engineers on board. They go more for pilotage which offers a more balanced life.” Wages are not an issue because they are very competitive. A ship’s captain can earn more than $500 a day, an electrician $350, a mechanic’s assistant $330, while a chief cook makes $360 a day with premiums paid for weekend shifts.

“There are (six) marine institutes across Canada which went through a bit of a drought a few years ago. But in the last three or four years, they’ve been producing a lot of young cadets. Nevertheless, it takes about ten years to become a captain. Our trade is a trade of local knowledge (of the Seaway), and its takes an individual a long time to acquire that knowledge.” While the shipping industry was disappointed when Ottawa cut funding to sector councils for manpower training, the federal government has come out with other programs, noted Robert Lewis-Manning, President of the Canadian Shipowners Association. “They’ve come out with a jobs grant program that we can leverage. Interestingly, the demographics of the industry are changing and the pipeline at the college level is filling up. The greatest challenge we have over the short term is with senior professional managers where the experience gap could widen.

`We came out of the recession in a fairly good position and companies are recapitalizing fleets and now we have to find people to operate them.”