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Join Seattle Harbor as we invest in young people for a robust maritime future

In April 2020, we faced the most sudden, catastrophic job loss since the Great Depression. COVID-19 decimated employment, especially in hospitality, tourism, and other service-related industries, which were shut down when we all put shelter in place.

Now, two years later, we are – surprisingly – facing the exact opposite problem. Unemployment is lower than it has been for two generations, and employers in all industries are struggling to find labor. This should be obvious both locally and outside our region if you were trying to take a ferry or board a plane recently.

In the Port of Seattle, this labor market jigsaw has led us to consider how we can smooth out peaks and valleys, create more stable employment for workers and less attrition for employers – in good times and in bad. A clear insight we have learned is that in both cases, youth workers should be treated as an integral part of our economy rather than a discretionary and occasional workforce.

And that’s the golden edge that has come with the shortage of labor along with the “gray wave” of current retirements: It paves the way for young people – especially those from underrepresented communities – to well-paid career opportunities available throughout this region.

But hiring young people can be difficult. School plans, transportation challenges and more intensive boarding requirements add complexity. So it’s understandable why some companies decide it’s too burdensome to recruit a youth workforce.

We do not have this luxury in the Seattle harbor. We need a constant pipeline of skilled workers for our maritime and aviation divisions. We also plan to spend billions of dollars over the next decade on green construction projects at our facilities, requiring thousands of craftsmen. We believe that our future workforce should reflect our society, which means that jobs will have to include many more women and many more people of color.

In addition, we have made three crucial changes to our job programs that have accelerated our efforts to build a more diverse workforce. First, we changed our summer internship program to a year-round internship, making interns a critical part of how the port conducts its regular business. Next, we built on a successful collaboration with local non-profit organizations, where we met regularly with them to recruit young people and support their success. Finally, we embraced a project-based cohort model that makes virtual work more engaging for young people.

These programs represent a chance for young people to enter the lowest step of the career ladder in our industries, which is a good start. But without a steady job to climb in after the first steps, our efforts would have been in vain.

This year, the Commission will launch a new program to focus on these permanent jobs. Based on our highly successful Opportunity Youth Initiative, our new Youth Career Launch program ultimately aims to place youth in jobs that will lead to maritime careers. We have committed more than $ 4 million to this program over the next three years.

We chose with good reason to focus on the maritime. Nearly 70,000 Washingtonians work in the maritime industry, but as The Seattle Times recently reported, the maritime workforce is aging and retiring and does not reflect the diversity of our society. A new generation of workers is not entering the industry at the same pace. Our experiment with engaging young people early on has already paid off for the port. We hope that other large employers will create these early opportunities – the lowest steps of the career ladder – in their own organizations.

Here’s what we suggest for maritime companies: Host young interns for three months. The port pays the interns for their time and work in your company. In return, we ask you to consider hiring them for a full-time beginner-level position in your company at the end of their internship.

Today’s work crisis is a good reminder to business leaders that talent development does not start after you send an offer letter. It starts with engaging with young people through the career development programs that go into our industries. Smart leaders will invest in these pipelines.

Whether you are a maritime manager ready to join our career launch program, or a local company interested in rethinking how you manage your own youth jobs, the last two years should be the wake-up call we need. . The time is now to start preparing for the next economic crisis. Investing in youth career development is one surefire way to handle the next storm.

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