Working on the waterfront: more people needed

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It’s winter layup time in the Northland, with boats getting maintenance done while they’re not busy out on the water.

But spring and the shipping season will be here soon enough.

And the waterfront workforce needs more people. Not just on the boats themselves, but also on land as well.

That’s why the Twin Ports and the Duluth Seaway Port Authority worked together to bring business and education leaders in for a forum on workforce.

It was at Barker’s Island Inn in Superior on Thursday.

"We don’t have a lot of data about workforce needs in and around the port. So we’re really here to collect that information and find out how to create programs to potentially funnel employees into and onto the water," shared Kate Ferguson, Director of Trade and Business Development for the Port Authority.

One longtime shipping leader, Ken Gerasimos, said he thinks that industry isn’t as accessible as it used to be. "They look at these things (vessel), and they see them so far out there. And they never think it’s right here," he said. He’s the General Manager of Key Lakes Great Lakes Fleet.

Duluth’s Workforce Development Director, Elena Foshay, explained that companies may have to change their approach to getting employees.

"It might mean more college connections. Maybe strengthening your on-the-job training. Maybe diversifying the labor pool. Maybe taking a hard look at the quality of the job, like flexible scheduling. Maybe it’s ramping up internships. Incentives to retain workers. Or partnering with others for a shared workforce strategy," she said.

Big workforce issues facing the Northland right now include child care and transportation, along with an aging workforce and more retirements.