Workforce Diversity

Seaports are diverse by nature, and this applies to their workforces as well. Some ports are finding that this diversity is contributing to more than just their success – it is giving them an inner strength. 

By Sarah B. Hood

Seaports are diverse by nature; they connect continents, companies and individuals around the world. Increasingly, North American ports are harnessing diversity in their workforces and building their capacity by contracting to diverse businesses.

The roster of officially certified companies being sought out includes Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs), which may be owned or controlled by Aboriginal, African, Hispanic or Asian Americans; Women’s Business Enterprises (WBEs); Small Business Enterprises (SBEs), and Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs), which are owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. In addition, in diversifying their workforce, many ports are targeting veterans, whose background is especially compatible with the often challenging work of a seaport.

For example, the Port of Seattle reports that in 2015, more than $9 million in contracts went to certified DBE, MBE and/or WBE businesses: an increase of $1 million over the previous year. In the same period, 33 percent of eligible expenditures went to small businesses.

Seattle also has a robust program to hire military personnel, and estimates that nearly 10 percent of the port’s employees have served or are currently serving in the military. Its Veterans Fellowship Program provides six-month employment to assist veterans in making the transition to civilian life. On November 15, 2017, the Port of Seattle, the Port of Tacoma and the Northwest Seaport Alliance partnered to host “Guardians of the Gateway,” a veterans’ career workshop.

Philadelphia’s PhilaPort is currently developing a comprehensive diversity outreach program to intensify its commitment to engaging certified MBEs and WBEs – as well as veteran-owned, service-disabled-veteran-owned and LGBT-owned small businesses – in project-related construction contracts and subcontracts. It has set a target of 20 percent of contract awards going to at least two of these categories.

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