Sea Potential’s Reflections on Retention vs. Recruitment

Organizational, Team

Written by Savannah Smith,
Sea Potential

Article originally published on Maritime Manufacturing & Technology 

As an organization focused on creating a full cycle of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) representation in maritime, it often gets misconstrued that we are a talent agency. People reach out to us asking for us to send BIPOC their way, but when we express our need to build a relationship with their organization first and the importance of them evaluating and strengthening their workplace culture before inviting BIPOC folks in, we’ve not always been met with the same eagerness and enthusiasm. We’ve actually been ignored and ghosted in response by some. We want to share our reflections on the harm of recruitment centered approaches and the importance of truly investing in communities of color.

The aging maritime workforce is leaving job openings at a rate faster than they are being replaced, so recruitment is crucial. In fact, in 2016 the industry had a projected shortage of 150,000 mariners by 2025 (“BIMCO/ICS”). But growing a workforce, especially a diverse one, doesn’t start and end with recruiting. For many BIPOC folks in our community, the opportunities in maritime are unknown.

There is a real chance to spread awareness about maritime and diversify the workforce right now. However, there is also a real chance that marginalized communities could be pushed further away from maritime and amplify the effects of the dwindling workforce on the industry as a result.

It’s hard enough to grow and diversify a workforce when potential candidates don’t even know about the job opportunities available to them. What’s worse would be attracting BIPOC employees into a space where they feel unseen, unheard, unvalued, uncomfortable, and unsafe. Inflicting traumatic experiences and pushing assimilation over representation in the workplace could be detrimental to recruitment efforts. When this happens, you could then have people going back to their communities and naturally doing the opposite of recruitment. Honestly sharing their experiences could further drive BIPOC communities away from the industry. Now instead of a lack of awareness of opportunities, there’s the potential of negative experiences overshadowing them and reasons not to enter or reasons to leave the industry being spread. On the plus side however, this same community spread of experiences applies if they are positive. People will also endorse the opportunities available if they are fulfilling. This is why we are so cautious about promoting random job opportunities to our community. We refuse to get people, especially our youth, excited about potential careers and opportunities that are not conducive for them to thrive in.

“Organizations with inclusive cultures are 2x as likely to meet financial targets, 6x as likely to be innovative & agile, 8x as likely to achieve better business outcomes.”

— Kim Lessley, Fostering an Inclusive Culture Is A Business Imperative, Not A Trend, Forbes

We like to vet the organizations reaching out to us first and make sure they are invested in long term retention of employees over recruitment. This starts with building relationships with each other and potentially identifying where Sea Potential can support the organization in strengthening their workplace culture and building relationships with surrounding BIPOC communities. Even if it is not us who is supporting the organization in these efforts, we need to know that they are doing the work.

We encourage all employers to honestly identify what their workplace culture is and not just what they intend it to be. As many already know, intent is not always impact. Ask employees for honest feedback without repercussions, ask applicants who turn down offers and those who decide to quit for feedback as well if given the opportunity. And when you do, listen to understand. Getting feedback provides the puzzle pieces for addressing the issues your organization may be facing and should be framed as an opportunity for growth. With all this being said, it should also be noted whose perspectives are being left out of the picture. In Washington state, the average maritime worker is 54 years old (Swift) and in Seattle-king County three out of four maritime workers are white with 74% of them also being men (Shultz) With a workforce that is largely white male, the majority of perspectives will be coming from that lived experience and outlook. Especially when considering leadership and executive level positions, as they tend to be even less diverse. Working with DEI consultants and BIPOC led organizations can help fill those gaps and bring light to unidentified workplace culture elements and impacts, as well as structural and systematic barriers the organization may be facing.

Remember, investing in diversity and creating a culture of representation over assimilation in your organization is not just about or for BIPOC. These efforts benefit everyone. We know that in nature biodiversity leads to healthier ecosystem function, and the same applies in the workplace. Diversity of thought, perspective and experience, leads to more innovation and growth. Organizations with inclusive cultures are 2x as likely to meet financial targets, 6x as likely to be innovative & agile, 8x as likely to achieve better business outcomes (Lessley). Genuine efforts to diversify the industry also help connect an organization to the community in a new way, and attract a younger workforce. It’s actually been found that “candidates are most attracted to diverse organizations, particularly the talent of the future such as millennials & Gen Z” (Heseltine). We’ve centered BIPOC folks in this blog post but this applies to all marginalized communities and identities, not just racial and ethnic diversity.

Moving forward, we ask you to reflect on how your organization is working to grow, diversify, and sustain the industry outside of recruitment and then take intentional action.


“BIMCO/ICS Manpower Report Predicts Potential Shortage of Almost 150,000 Officers by 2025”. International Chamber of Shipping. 17 May 2016,

Heseltine, Heidi. “Why the maritime industry needs to improve diversity in the workplace”. Global Maritime Forum. 23 June 2020,

Lessley, Kim. “Fostering an Inclusive Culture Is A Business Imperative, Not A Trend”. Forbes. 15 October 2020

Shultz, Erica. “Washington’s maritime industry is pushing to be more inclusive, welcoming”. The Seattle Times, 5 December 2021,

Swift, Cathy. “Five Fast Facts About Commercial Fishing”. Port of Seattle, 10 May 2019,,the%20%E2%80%9Csilver%20tsunami%E2%80%9D%20of%20workers%20begins%20to%20retire

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