Susan Shey Dvonch, Managing Partner, Shey-Harding Executive Search
Author picture

Susan Shey Dvonch, Managing Partner, Shey-Harding Executive Search

The primary challenge confronting the transportation industry will be a significant shortage of skilled professionals. This concern aligns with our discussions in this forum last year. However, presently, numerous client companies and industry partners are grappling with extended periods of unfilled positions.

Several US ports face vacancy rates ranging from 13% to 17%. The pool of active job seekers, particularly those possessing specialized skills and degrees, has dwindled. In the past, job postings would draw hundreds of applicants, but we’re now observing only a fraction of that number due to a remarkably low unemployment rate of 3.8%.

Infrastructure investment at US ports has reached unprecedented levels, leading to a heightened demand for civil engineers at both staff and leadership levels. Private sector engineering firms offer competitive pay and frequently provide remote work options. This poses a challenge for those seeking to transition to the public sector, where in-office requirements are more prevalent. We’re now starting to see improvements in public sector salaries, reflecting the understanding that crucial roles necessitate positive changes in compensation offerings.

These challenges underscore the ongoing need for proactive recruitment strategies to effectively engage passive candidates. Swift and efficient processes are crucial, enabling prompt action upon identifying promising candidates. Contemporary hiring processes may involve fewer candidates than before, so delaying decisions until a larger pool emerges can be detrimental to employers, hindering their ability to secure top-quality hires.

Given current employment conditions, a promising trend we've observed is the rise in internal senior-level promotions. Our port clients are taking a proactive approach to succession planning, recognizing and rewarding high achievers. This strategy has proven beneficial in filling leadership positions, especially amidst retirements, reorganizations and unexpected vacancies. External hires are still key to filling resulting vacancies.

Candidates consistently seek exceptional organizations. While salary and hybrid work options are crucial factors in recruitment, the challenge of the job, strong leadership and a positive organizational culture remain pivotal in attracting and retaining outstanding employees.