Credit: iStock.com//Shunyu Fan. Port of Seattle, United States
The Port of Seattle is an independent government entity created in 1911, and is today one of the most important economic development agencies in the state of Washington. This municipal corporation also operates the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) and marinas for pleasure boats and parks. Its objectives are to promote economic and commercial growth in the area, directly and indirectly generating 200,000 jobs with combined salaries of nearly $7 billion.
However, another important goal is to reduce the adverse effects of import and export cargo handling activities, commercial fishing, and commercial maritime and air traffic on the environment.
Luis Navarro. Director Workforce Development Seattle Port
“We want to be the cleanest, greenest port and airport in North America. How are we going to get there? Well, working with the industry to raise awareness of its impact on the environment, and as operators and the owners of the land where the marinas and container terminals are located, we also demand respect and cleanliness for the environment,” says Luis Navarro, Director of Workforce Development for the Port of Seattle. Navarro is originally from Costa Rica and has worked for the port for more than two decades.
Labor support for the maritime industry also has also translated to state support. In late 2017, Governor Jay Inslee launched the Maritime Blue 2050; the first national effort focused exclusively on creating maritime jobs at competitive wages, and dedicated to the sustainability of the industry and the protection of the natural environment.
The renewal of the sector’s workforce became urgent with the current lack of diversity. 78% of the workforce in Seattle and King County is white, and 74% male. A considerable number of these workers will reach retirement age in the next decade.
It is for this reason, explains Navarro, that the Port of Seattle has assumed the responsibility of generating employment opportunities for the young people of the Puget Sound, with particular emphasis on racial minorities, “We want the young people who are going to be the workers of the future in the maritime industry, to start with the desire to help the sustainability of the industry. So, if a young Hispanic individual desires to work with his hands, we can support him with training to be a mechanic. But maybe if a young woman is interested in becoming a marine biologist, we will support her so that she can continue that career path.”
Luis Navarro (Left) y Rut Perez-Studer (Right)
The gender disparity in lucrative jobs in the industry also represents an opportunity, explains Rut Perez-Studer. Originally from Spain, she took over as manager of the port’s Fishing and Commercial Vessel Services at the end of 2021. Perez-Studer says she is grateful for the opportunity to demonstrate her ability in a position not typically associated with women. “I feel proud that I can and that anyone can, that there are no limits to what you become and say ‘I can, and I’m good at what I’m doing.’ It’s a big difference from before, saying that you deserve it and having the support of men, Latino men, men from other places saying ‘Yes, I trust that she can, too’ and having that coexistence and support is very important.”
Government entities, including the Port of Seattle, aim to generate career interest among Puget Sound’s minority communities by supporting educational institutions such as Maritime High School and Seattle Maritime Academy.
The Seattle Maritime Academy offers two Coast Guard certified programs that can be completed in 3 quarters of 11 weeks each:
- Deck Operations Technology, or daily activities to keep vessels operational, and
- Maritime Engineering Technology, where you learn about the operation and maintenance of various marine propulsion equipment.
“With this program, you don’t have to go $80,000 in debt. That program is $10,000, and there are many scholarships for people to enter and more for people from other communities and women. And when you work after finishing that program, you are earning $70 or $80,000 a year, and you are not in debt,” explains Perez-Studer. (The average wage for maritime workers in Washington is $70,000 annually.)
The Maritime High School is the first public school dedicated to the maritime industry on the US West Coast, offering education and practical experience to students from ninth grade and above in marine sciences, construction, and operation of ships.
For the Port of Seattle, an important objective is to understand and reduce the negative impact on the environment caused by container shipping and fishing industry activities.
“For example, we have a pod of resident killer whales here in the Puget Sound. They live here all year long, and we want that pod of killer whales, that family of killer whales, to grow in number. There have been reductions, and we want to understand the impact, the correlation between industrial ships and these killer whales, these families of killer whales. We also know that with the reduction in their food, which is salmon, there may be an impact from the chemicals in the water, that there are fewer salmon for these killer whales to live. So we want to be part of the future solution, but again, without forgetting that economic support, the industry’s economic development is important, but at the same time understand how we can improve the habitat of all the marine beings that are here. We have science, we have biologists, we have people who are helping us in promoting the environment, environmental sustainability, and at the same time, the industry. We want young people, especially young Latinos, to begin to be the future of the new marine worker, so that marine life continues to grow as well as economic development throughout the maritime industry.”