Median Salary: $70,720
Change in salary (2007–2013): +30%
Total employees: 4,500
To become a longshore worker, you don’t need to attend a college or university program, as the required training for the job happens mostly while you’re doing it. However, in order to become a well-paid member of the Canadian chapter of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (which represents workers on the west coast), you’re going to need to put in several years of part-time work in a heavily fluctuating industry. On the east coast, you’ll be looking to join the International Longshoremen’s Association.
How to qualify: The minimum required education is a high school diploma. As you work towards becoming a union member though, you need to work on your ratings, says Steve Nasby, the second vice president of the ILWU’s Canadian chapter and a longshore foreman with over 30 years’ experience on the job. The more jobs you try your hand at (and longshore workers can be doing anything in a given week from being on the ships, to dock work, to operating heavy machinery), the more you diversify your skill set. The more often you try your hand at various jobs, the higher your ratings get.
Money: As mentioned above, a member of the ILWU can do quite well for themselves on a yearly basis. Nasby says senior union members can usually make anywhere from $80,000 to $130,000 a year (if you’re taking every job you can get). However, in order to get to that stage, you have to put in many years building up your seniority.
Outlook: Between 2008 and 2010, longshore workers experienced a high degree of unemployment, according to Employment and Social Development Canada. However, the government has projected excess demand for longshore workers (grouped in with “material handlers”) into 2020, with a greater number of positions available than those seeking work – good prospects for anyone looking to get into the industry.
What it’s Like: The day-to-day life of a new longshore worker can be tough, says Nasby. “In the beginning it’s extremely hard to get work.” The shipping industry is dependent on both the global economy (2008 and 2009 were tough years) and, on a more individual level, the simple fact of whether or not there’s a large ship in the harbour to be unloaded on a given day. The amount of work to go around varies throughout the week, and often new workers have to balance their longshore job with another part-time position for several years since they are low on the seniority scale. Having made his way through those tougher early years though, Nasby says he loves his job.