Bustling Ports Strain Security Staffing

Ports seek skilled, experienced workers to tackle security needs, including rising demands on the cybersecurity front.

* By Tom Gresham *

The growing economy and corresponding increase in activity at the nation’s ports have put pressure on the security side of port operations, officials say. More traffic means more to protect – and to protect against. However, the strength of the economy and widespread low unemployment rates also have led to heightened competition in the job market, and security staffing at ports is among the numerous careers fields across the United States where the pinch for skilled workers is being felt.

“The economy is making things tough on a lot of employers for hiring,” said Charles Bohnenberger, vice president of government services for Allied Universal, which provides security professionals to ports and other sites.

Jill Taylor, homeland security manager at the Port of Los Angeles, said large landlord ports are fortunate to have access to more security resources and staff than smaller ports. At the Port of Los Angeles, she hasn’t encountered a particular security staffing problem, partly because of access to governmental security personnel assigned to help ensure the port’s security, and she notes that each of the port’s 27 terminals provides its own security staff and staff levels have remained sufficient.

Similarly, David Espie, director of security for the Maryland Port Administration, said that the Port of Baltimore has skilled experts from an array of local, state and federal agencies involved in port security. He said there are two distinct hiring pools for security positions overseen by the Port of Baltimore and other ports like it – internal positions and security guard positions. Espie said he has little trouble finding qualified personnel for his internal positions. Those workers tend to have higher education degrees and extensive security experience, and they handle management and policy roles, tackling tasks such as writing grant proposals, overseeing budgets and personnel, and serving as liaisons with outside partners.

“Personnel within internal security staffs are not difficult to fill,” Espie said. “These positions pay well and provide sound benefits.”

In contrast, Espie said security guards can be a tougher hire because of low pay and benefits when compared to stressful work responsibilities. At the Port of South Louisiana, Brian Cox, director of operations, said open security guard positions draw large numbers of applicants but few have the desired credentials.

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