B.C. Ferries launches hiring campaign as it struggles to recruit and retain staff

Faced with high staff turnover and an aging workforce, B.C. Ferries is actively recruiting. (Christer Waara/CBC - image credit)
Faced with high staff turnover and an aging workforce, B.C. Ferries is actively recruiting. (Christer Waara/CBC - image credit)

B.C. Ferries is launching what it says is its biggest recruitment campaign to date due to staff shortages that have forced sailing cancellations in the wake of the pandemic.

A report submitted this week to the B.C. Ferries Commissioner shows a 52 per cent increase in turnover among ferry employees over the last two years. According to spokesperson Deborah Marshall, a significant number of staff are also closing in on their retirement dates.

"We are challenged with an aging demographic as well as people retiring," she told CBC's On The Island Thursday.

Marshall said there are mitigation plans currently in place, including cross-training people for multiple positions and offering overtime, but that onboarding more staff is critical for future smooth sailings.

Vessels cannot sail for safety reasons if they do not have adequate staffing.

"On occasion, we have not been able to secure sufficient crew, and we have had to cancel," said Marshall.

In an effort to attract staff, B.C. Ferries is holding a hiring fair in the provincial capital next week, March 15 and 16, at the Victoria Greek Community Centre.

Last summer, frustrated riders faced numerous cancellations for this reason and after a tumultuous few years marked by staffing challenges and pandemic losses, B.C. Ferries fired its then-president and CEO, Mark Collins.

The report to the commissioner also forecasts future financial woes. First submitted in September, it has now been re-submitted with revised financial projections due to the expected impact of a mild recession in the 2024 fiscal year.

Citing higher inflation and operating cost pressures, the company has reduced its predicted tariff revenue by $14 million. It also says its 12-year capital plan price tag will increase by $229 million.

The B.C. Ferries commissioner is set to determine a preliminary increase in annual fares by March 31, with the final price hike for the next four years to be published by Sept. 30.

The report comes after the B.C. government announced $500 million in new funding to B.C. Ferries in February. That money was earmarked to prevent rising fuel prices and inflation from spilling over into fare increases.

According to the provincial Transportation Ministry, three-quarters of B.C.'s population live along the coast, and many rely on daily ferry service for goods and services, in addition to travel needs.