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Crowley Sponsored Series

Decarbonizing the Maritime Industry

Crowley Prioritizes Mariners’ Development, Inclusive Recruiting Amid Worker Shortages

Along with the rest of the U.S. workforce, the maritime industry faces ongoing labor shortages. Crowley, a leading logistics, marine and energy solutions company, is among those turning toward more inclusive workforce development strategies for solutions. 
By 3p Editors
Crowley shipping vessel crossing the water

Along with ongoing labor shortages across the U.S. workforce, the maritime industry is facing additional challenges. Crowley, a leading logistics, marine and energy solutions company, is among those turning to workforce development strategies centered on DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) for solutions. 

After testifying as part of a panel of industry leaders at a recent congressional hearing in Miami, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Crowley Shipping, James C. Fowler, pointed out that the most critical need facing the maritime industry is the shortage of mariners.

“The critical need that we have now is ensuring that we have adequate mariners in our system. Today we’re in a mariner shortage, a crisis across our industry. And we certainly need some support in ensuring that we can solve this together,” he said. 

Fowler explained that this challenge has two facets. The first is attracting new talent and making them more aware of the industry, which Crowley has partnered with MARAD and others to address. The second is career progression, as the in-person requirements and out of pocket costs can turn mariners away. The certification process needs to be modernized to reduce the cost to mariners and provide materials and coursework digitally to make it easier for mariners to upgrade their licensing and advance their careers.

Besides efforts to broadly enhance mariner development and credentialing with the U.S. government, the company’s approach is particularly noteworthy because it integrates DEI to support traditional recruiting, development, and workplace safety approaches, helping to cement diversity as a feature in employee talent acquisition and engagement practices to broaden the pool of potential U.S. mariners.

Leveraging inclusion to make existing workforce programs more effective

Crowley is a family- and employee-owned business that began with a single rowboat plying the San Francisco Bay in 1892. Today, it spans 7,000 employees and a fleet of more than 170 vessels that the company owns outright or runs in an operator or management capacity.

The Crowley umbrella also covers a wide range of facilities on land, from office buildings to tank farms, and a diverse fleet of trucks, trailers, cranes and other heavy-duty vehicles.

It can be challenging enough to engage prospective employees in the various training, licensing and certification regimens from the government involved in Crowley’s operations. That’s why drawing from a diverse labor pool is increasingly critical.
In a conversation with TriplePundit, Ira Douglas, vice president of labor relations, explained how the company integrates DEI into its workforce planning by building on existing recruitment avenues. 

“Knowing that maritime academy cadets are future vessel leaders, Crowley began integrating diversity, equity and inclusion components into our cadet shipping selection process, resulting in greater diversity selection,” Douglas said. “Additionally, we implemented a new recruiting system for the Thomas B. Crowley Sr. Scholarship Fund in 2021 to integrate DEI components into applications and focus on broadening the talent pool.”

The Scholarship Fund initiative was particularly effective, increasing the number of female cadet scholarship awardees from 6 percent to an impressive 40 percent.

“We are also working with our union partners on working groups to address cultural issues and develop benefits that allow for more inclusivity, such as maternity leave policies and programs,” Douglas said. 

Centering workplace safety

A successful diversity hiring initiative does not necessarily translate into equity in the workplace. One-off diversity training sessions have gained a reputation for ineffectiveness. Equity and inclusion principles must be integrated with daily practice to accomplish lasting, long-term goals. At Crowley, he company’s prioritization of workplace safety, operationally, physically and psychologically, supports this holistic approach.

“Safety is core to our culture and Crowley has a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and discrimination,” Douglas said.

Crowley’s in-house workplace safety policies are fortified by the Every Mariner Builds A Respectful Culture (EMBARC) Standards recently adopted by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Maritime Administration and the various U.S. merchant marine academies.

The standards are designed to support compliance with existing guidelines aimed at preventing sexual assault, harassment and other forms of misconduct. They are required for every U.S.-flagged commercial vessel operator that intends to employ members of the merchant marine industry. 

“Crowley was the first company accepted into the U.S. Maritime Administration’s EMBARC program — which requires that all our vessels have crews fully trained on harassment and discrimination, multiple avenues for reporting incidents, timelines for performing investigations, and visible signs and posters with further information on these,” Douglas said.

The company also supports voluntary, employee-run business resource groups, including a mariner-based group, to provide developmental guidance and foster a culture of respect in alignment with the company's goals. Open to all employees, the groups span many parts of the workforce, including people identifying as Black, Hispanic, and Asian American Pacific Islander as well as veterans, women, LGBTQ+, multi-denominational Christian and multigenerational collective to break down generational silos. 

In addition to in-house support, the business resource groups platform also supports Crowley’s external diversity outreach efforts. 

The Black Resourceful Individuals Dedicated to Growth and Education (BRIDGE) group, for example, participates in a career and personal skills program with the youth mentorship organization Big Brothers Big Sisters. It also partners with local organizations like Lift Jax in Jacksonville, Florida, to donate school supplies and talk to students about maritime careers.

Collaborating and coordinating with other industry groups is also essential. For example, in working toward cultivating a female workforce, Douglas points out that Parker Harrison, Crowley’s chief risk and legal officer, served as president of the U.S. branch of the Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association for three years. Shandee Bowman, Crowley’s vice president of culture and inclusion, has also been recently appointed the chair of the Florida Diversity Council board of directors.

Next steps for the workforce of the future

In 2022, Transportation Institute, a nonprofit organization, surveyed maritime carriers and they received answers from 163 respondents. “Over 75 percent of responding fleets are currently struggling to fill or are delayed in hiring positions,” Douglas said. Almost half of respondents experienced delays and missed opportunities due to labor shortages.

“Additionally an expected 1,300 mariners will be needed through 2054 to operate new vessels to meet sealift capacity needs, and the offshore wind industry is expected to require as many as 4,400 mariners to support operations, according to the survey,” Douglas said.

Crowley also focuses on career readiness and scholarships for maritime students, including people in traditionally underserved communities.

“This is part of a larger educational ecosystem we are developing to advance the industry and support equity efforts with a heightened emphasis on women, Black or African American, and LGBTQ+ talent,” Douglas explained.

In 2023, the company completed an employee “Self ID” campaign to capture the makeup of its global workforce and help build appreciation for diversity. Other actions include support for LGBTQ+ equity.

Crowley is an excellent example of a company founded in the 19th Century that is preparing for the risks and opportunities of tomorrow. This includes a diversified workforce, new workplace safety standards and capitalizing on the emergence of new industries. Rather than letting challenges get in its way, the company is charting its own course for the future.

This article series is sponsored by Crowley and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.

Image courtesy of Crowley

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TriplePundit editors offer news and insights on sustainable business.

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