Washington State Ferries looks to train workforce of its future as retirements loom

With about one-quarter of Washington State Ferries’ 1,800 employees eligible for retirement within five years, new training simulators in Ballard are part of an aggressive recruiting effort to draw new employees — and help current employees get ready for more advanced roles.

Two men stood in the bridge, one at the ship’s navigation system, one acting as a lookout, scanning the horizon.

“Five contacts, one large vessel, starboard bow,” the lookout said. “One vessel three points off of our port quarter.”

The quartermaster helmsman at the controls shifted direction.

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“Ahead is one-three-four,” he said. “Continue right to one-five-zero.”

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Down in the engine room, there was a problem — an alarm was going off. A lube oil filter was blocked. One of the men in the engine room — an oiler — called up to the bridge to let them know he was opening a valve to bypass the filter and going to check out the problem.

Another call to the bridge: A wiring harness had fallen off the filter. It’d be about a 10-minute fix.

None of the ship’s passengers noticed any of it. There were no passengers. There wasn’t even a ship. All the action was happening at two new training simulators at the Seattle Maritime Academy in Ballard.

With about one-quarter of Washington State Ferries’ 1,800 employees eligible for retirement…

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