Ferry employees at the Tillikum's 60th anniversary.

Washington State Ferries is preparing for more employee turnover than it’s seen in its entire history. Half of all ferry employees—that’s about 900 people throughout the organization—are over 55 years old. Which is to say they’ll reach retirement age in the next five years. So the WSF is in heavy recruitment mode.

Cori Shull enlists new hires for the Washington Department of Transportation’s ferries division and has recently helped bring on 98 new workers. She’s visited high schools and universities, maritime academies, and Navy job fairs across the country, all in the pursuit of potential staff. “There’s a lot of younger people who don’t know about the maritime industry,” she says.

The majority of deckhands, for example, start as an entry level “ordinary seaman.” It takes 540 sea-time days—roughly 4,320 work hours—to level up to an “able-bodied seaman” rank. The seniority-based, promote-from-within system allows motivated individuals to climb from the bottom to captain’s rank in, maybe, 10 years—no college degree required. That accessibility coupled with stability, benefits, and the great, drizzly outdoors can be mighty attractive, says Shull. “People stick around for a reason.” She just needs to get them on deck.

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