y Larry Persily

Wranglell Sentinel

The state has contracted with an Anchorage-based search firm to help recruit and fill almost 50 job openings with the Alaska Marine Highway System, ranging from several onshore management positions to onboard crew.

Alaska Executive Search was the only bidder for the contract, said Sam Dapcevich, Transportation Department spokesman. The contract is not to exceed $250,000.

The state will pay the company an hourly rate for its work on the year-long recruitment and hiring effort — ranging from $65 to $105 an hour, depending on the contractor personnel assigned to the campaign — along with a $5,000 “placement fee” for each person hired, Dapcevich said.

The bid notice said the state wants help recruiting 10 junior engineers, 15 able-bodied seamen and 18 oilers aboard the ships, along with three vessel construction managers, a passenger services inspector, port engineer and safety management coordinator for onshore jobs.

The department issued its notice of contract award last week, after a three-week bidding period that closed Jan. 14.

Alaska Executive Service said in its proposal that it will use advertising and social media, in addition to working with trade schools, maritime associations and other organizations to promote the Alaska jobs, screen candidates and assist the ferry system in hiring.

“In addition to other recruitment methods and resources utilized,” the state’s bid notice for a search firm said, the contractor “should also consider taking advantage of, and marketing the unique benefits and advantages of a rewarding maritime career with the AMHS when developing recruitment plans for these critical positions.”

The expanded recruitment effort addresses a long-term problem of ferry system staffing stretched thin by layoffs due to service cutbacks, retirements and employees taking jobs elsewhere.

“The Alaska Marine Highway System continues to struggle with crew shortages. Both Washington State Ferries and BC Ferries are experiencing the same challenges amid a nationwide problem for licensed and documented mariners,” according to the Alaska ferry system website.

The state last fall embarked on a hiring campaign, advertising in and out of state and working with the Alaska Department of Labor to recruit job candidates. As of Feb. 1, the ferry system had added 36 new entry-level passenger service positions, according to a marine highway website posting, with an additional 106 recruits working to obtain their required documentation, such as Coast Guard licensing.

Last summer, the ferry system was short about 125 workers from full staffing, down about 25% from the 600 employees it needs to keep its fleet operational and accommodate sick leave and other vacancies.

“We’ve had a slow progression of loss of crew over the years,” John Falvey, the system’s general manager, said last summer. “COVID has not helped us.”