Recently, the U.S. Coast Guard National Merchant Personnel Advisory Committee (N-MERPAC) met in Washington, DC in December 2022 to discuss recommendations on methods to address the shortage of credentialed U.S. Merchant Mariners. The U.S. maritime industry has experienced ongoing shortages of mariners credentialed to operate vessels at both the support level and the management level. This shortfall not only affects the national and international supply chain but also affects the ability to crew the U.S. Surge Sealift vessels that support national security needs.
This mariner shortage is not solely an issue in the United States, but is being experienced worldwide. Many short term and long term strategies for workforce development and retention were recommended by N-MERPAC to address these manning issues, but there’s another that was highlighted at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting in a workshop titled, “Best Practices for Gender Mainstreaming in Transportation Analysis and Research.”
While skewed towards the academic and research fields, there were a number of good takeaways for the maritime industry. Amongst these is the simple concept of gender mainstreaming vice gender equality. In the latter, accommodations are made to ensure equity for a specific under-represented group. This differs from mainstreaming which is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programs.
In addition, a study that assessed why women leave engineering was referenced. While this study addresses shoreside engineering careers, it can reasonably be extrapolated that the maritime industry faces the same issues for credentialed mariners.
As women represent 50% of the population, but closer to 12% of credentialed mariners, engaging and retaining this segment of society might be a good short term strategy to address workforce issues. This is, of course, secondary to the simple fact that a more inclusive and tolerant workforce is being created.
“Stemming the Tide” identified an interesting fact – namely, that women weren’t leaving the engineering field to focus solely on family, but that they were transitioning into other careers that allowed a more flexible workplace and provided a more supportive work-life culture. Now, it can be understood that the mariner’s job will (likely) always be remote from family and friends, there are aspects that can be adjusted. One of these aspects might be required days to work per year. For unlicensed union personnel in the United States, the required days to work per year for health care coverage or pension contributions negatively affects work-life balance to a large degree.
In the U.S., cadets from the U.S. merchant marine Academy (USMMA/Kings Point) have been subject to sexual harassment and assault, both at sea on commercial/government vessels and at the shoreside facility itself. The Department of Transportation (DOT) Maritime Administration (MARAD) requires vessel’s carrying cadets to participate in the EMBARC (Every Mariner Builds A Respectful Culture) program. This program is focused on cadet safety – in particular safety from sexual harassment and assault.
With greater than 60% of women mariners reporting onboard discrimination, ensuring programs such as EMBARC address ALL mariners, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or sexual identity is critical. Providing a safe, inclusive work culture will go a long ways towards retaining the credentialed mariners we currently have and creating a workplace which future generations will want to join.
Additional Reading and Links