Like many other industries, barge operators continue to experience prolonged difficulties recruiting and retaining workers. 

Operators say “people management” is one of their biggest challenges in running their businesses in both the short and long terms, forcing them to develop innovative recruiting methods, turn away new business for lack of crews, refine benefits and salaries, hire full-time recruiters, invest more in training programs, and spend more time marketing their company to existing employees than to their customers.

“Recruiting is still a challenge, but we are doing well with retaining talented mariners and have been able to remain fully crewed,” said H. Merritt Lane III, president and CEO of Canal Barge Co. Inc. (CBC), New Orleans. “We avoided layoffs and furloughs despite the Covid-related downturn and maintained our training and development pipeline, which has been beneficial as business conditions have improved.” 

He said CBC has extended its geographic recruiting drives and encourages employees to refer possible new recruits. Once new hires are onboard, “we make sure their early career experience is meaningful and that they are being mentored and connected to the company and their teammates.”

Some companies, despite robust recruiting efforts, have come up short with new hires and have had to turn away new business. “Absolutely we’ve had to say no because we don’t have enough mariners,” said Buckley McAllister, president of New York-based McAllister Towing and Transportation.

McAllister appeared at a press conference in April with his local congresswoman and a group of other towing companies to make an appeal for workers in the New York area.

He said it takes time to effectively train mariners and get them through to their required licenses. A number of mariners retired during the pandemic, and this created a void. “As the industry rebounded, the whole industry couldn’t just make new sailors appear for licensed positions.” Licensing delays at the Coast Guard haven’t helped, he added. 

Pamela Glass is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for WorkBoat. She reports on the decisions and deliberations of congressional committees and federal agencies that affect the maritime industry, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to coming to WorkBoat, she covered coastal, oceans and maritime industry news for 15 years for newspapers in coastal areas of Massachusetts and Michigan for Ottaway News Service, a division of the Dow Jones Company. She began her newspaper career at the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. A native of Massachusetts, she is a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan University (Conn.). She currently resides in Potomac, Md.

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