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Representatives from 10 Saltchuk companies gathered to conduct on-the-spot interviews and answer questions

Recruiters and hiring managers from Saltchuk’s Alaska operating companies gathered on March 13, 2024, in Anchorage for the first Alaska Transportation and Logistics Hiring Event, designed to proactively address hiring challenges in the state by removing barriers to access and accelerating the interview process.

Representatives from Alaska Petroleum Distributing, Carlile Transportation, Cook Inlet Tug & Barge, Delta Western Petroleum, Inlet Energy, Naniq Global Logistics, Northern Air Cargo, Northern Air Maintenance Services, Ryan Air, and TOTE Maritime Alaska were on-site to conduct on-the-spot interviews and answer questions.

“Alaska is a small pond,” said Elizabeth Edge, a recruiter for Carlile, “and there are a lot of people fishing in it.”

Hiring challenges

Tim Mutton is the Recruiting Manager for Northern Air Cargo (NAC) and Northern Aviation Maintenance Services (NAMS), both based in Anchorage, as well as Saltchuk Aviation Shared Services in Seattle.

“Hiring is very competitive up here,” he said. “Alaska’s population is pretty set—there’s not a lot of people coming in and out like in other parts of the country.”

Drivers and warehouse personnel have been particularly challenging roles to fill, but recruiting outside of Alaska presents its own set of challenges.

“The mention of temperatures dropping to -48 degrees Fahrenheit in Fairbanks can deter potential candidates,” said Rose Rodriguez, a Recruiter for NorthStar Energy. “But as residents of Alaska, we deeply appreciate the beauty and sense of community our state offers.”

Cook Inlet Tug & Barge (CITB) faces an extremely competitive market for qualified and competent mariners. CITB operates a large fleet, but demand for mariners ebbs and flows with the seasons—especially the company’s Western Alaska and Arctic fleets—making it difficult to recruit new talent.

“The maritime industry has seen a downturn in folks entering the trade and an increase in mariners retiring or seeking work elsewhere,” said Jeff Johnson, president of CITB. “Working at sea for extended periods no longer has the allure it once did.”

Meanwhile, the American Trucking Association forecasts a record-high 82,000-driver shortage in 2024. Alaska’s relative isolation and demanding conditions make it even more difficult for the state’s trucking companies to hire and retain enough drivers to keep up with increasing demand.

“With the oil fields ramping up, we need heavy equipment drivers, dock workers, yard workers—everyone wants them across the board,” Edge continued. “We have a tough time competing with (North) Slope jobs that are both high-paying and offer rotational schedules that allow drivers several weeks off at a time. We end up competing with other companies for qualified drivers in Anchorage and Fairbanks, and even Fairbanks is getting dry in terms of candidates. That’s where getting creative and finding different avenues comes in.”

Job seekers at the Alaska Transportation and Logistics Hiring Event on March 12, 2023, were able to network with multiple hiring managers from Saltchuk companies in Alaska.

Creative solutions

According to Edge, Carlile is exploring everything from tapping into previously ignored communities, developing non-driver employees, and translating onboarding and training materials into additional languages to looking to the state’s military and veteran populations, and courting drivers in the Lower 48.

“Carlile’s always done an element of relocation for its higher positions, but we recently came up with set relocation packages for drivers willing to uproot and move north,” Edge said.

Like Carlile, Saltchuk’s aviation companies are focused on recruitment from the continental United States.

“It’s definitely a challenge to get anyone currently living and working in the Lower 48 to move to Alaska without some sort of relocation incentive,” Mutton echoed. “Bottom line—if someone’s going to take a job, you’ve got to make them whole. They’ll come if the money’s right.”

Within the state, Mutton said using a location-based approach works best.

“In Anchorage, we do a lot of Indeed and looking to the Lower 48. In Bethel—it’s a village. Facebook is everything out there. Sometimes, the best approach is to get an ad on the local radio station. Sometimes all you need to do is print out a flyer and get it onto the door of the grocery store.”

CITB is focused on employee referrals.

“We’ve modified our employee referral program to further and generously incentivize our current workforce to help us fill our vacancies,” said Johnson. “We’ve found that encouraging our own people to refer candidates is a powerful in-house tool—after all, who better knows the type of person we need to hire than our own folks?”

NorthStar has tapped into the development of current employees.

“We’ve successfully enrolled four employees in the Alaska State Commercial Driver’s License Grant program. Additionally, we recognize the talent available within our local communities. Some individuals may require extra training and assistance to meet job requirements, such as obtaining certifications like the CDL, CDL conversions from a B to A, TWIC cards, Hazmat Endorsement training, a fully assisted onboarding experience, and/or forklift certifications. Our team is committed to providing the necessary support and resources to help employees develop their skills and advance in their careers.”

Naniq, too, is dedicated to helping current employees develop, both personally and professionally.

“We pride ourselves on being a company of second chances, which makes it easier to hire candidates who have criminal histories, candidates in recovery for addiction, or other backgrounds that might otherwise disqualify them from meaningful employment,” said Laura Desmond, Vice President of Employee Services and Facilities Management for Naniq. “We’re a great place for people trying to start over.”

In it for the long haul

Once candidates are in the door, the final step is long-term retention. Johnson said it’s important to provide added comforts and technology that turn new hires into loyal employees for years to come.

“Today’s world is a connected world. We’ve made communications and connectivity from the tugs a priority for our crews, installing satellite systems on our seasonal fleet, enabling that needed connectivity with home. Couple this with joining incentives and broader use of social media and attending career fairs and we hope to attract and retain the best of the best! Ultimately, our best tool is our reputation as a great company—built and maintained by our own people and equipment philosophy. Ultimately, good word spreads and we are thankful for that.”

“I like to say I’m not just a recruiter—I’m a retention manager,” Mutton echoed. “There may or may not be another company that’s offering more money. But if someone doesn’t like their manager, word of mouth is quick. It’s our job to create a culture that makes people ask, ‘Yes, it’s more money, but will I be happy?’ Being part of the larger Saltchuk family means working for a company that prioritizes safety, employee wellbeing, and growth potential, a company aligned with our sister companies in our dedication to Alaska and its people.”

Hilary Reeves

Hilary Reeves spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining the Saltchuk family of companies as a consultant. Since People of Saltchuk launched in 2014, Reeves has interviewed more than 200 Saltchuk employees from operating companies all over the world. Born in Tacoma, Washington, Reeves is a former president of both the collegiate and local professional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists, a graduate of the Society’s Ted Scripps Leadership Institute, and a Toastmaster. When she’s not writing, she loves to read, ski, and practice the piano. She lives in West Seattle with her husband and two young daughters.