The men and women who work at the docks and in shipyards are known as longshoremen. Life as a longshoreman involves a lot of hard work, but the rewards can make all the labour worthwhile.
Many companies involved in the shipping industry provide employees with highly competitive wages, exceptional health care, severance packages and other attractive benefits.
Becoming a longshoreman usually isn’t as easy as getting a job in many other industries, though. If you are interested in this career, keep reading to learn more about how to get a job as a longshoreman.
What Does a Longshoreman Do?
In our global economy, goods and commodities are transported around the world via ships, trains, planes and trucks.
Each of these modes of transport has a landing and unloading area. The employees who work at the docks and shipyards where cargo ships are loaded and unloaded are called longshoremen.
While their main duties involve loading and unloading cargo, they must also learn how to move the cargo through various processes and send it where it needs to go. The labour is often intense, but many men and women working in this field feel that the benefits are well worth the long hours and demanding physical labour.
Prerequisites for Becoming a Longshoreman
Before you seek employment as a longshoreman, it is important to ensure that you meet certain physical requirements.
Since the job involves unloading and loading cargo of varying weights and sizes, you need to be in good overall physical health. You also need to be capable of lifting and carrying heavy packages regularly.
Many longshoremen use equipment like cranes, forklifts, tractors, etc. to move shipping barrels, drums, IBC totes, pallets and other heavy cargo. Knowing how to use such equipment could boost your chances of being able to land the job you are looking for.
Good candidates for this type of work are able to work quickly and efficiently without constant supervision and instruction. They must also have good coordination skills and the ability to meet deadlines. Quick thinking and agility help as well.
While a formal education or official degree is not required, it is important to have extensive knowledge of the shipping industry. You will be expected to be proficient in certain terminology and professional jargon. Familiarize yourself with the shipping industry so you can confidently carry on a conversation about it.
If your goal is to work with a certain company, take the time to learn about its history and its specific needs. Educating yourself about the industry and the company you want to work for can set you apart from other candidates.
How to Become a Longshoreman?
If you meet the prerequisites, you can begin the actual process of becoming a longshoreman.
1. Obtain a TWIC Card
Before starting working as a longshoreman, you need to obtain the TWIC (Transportation Worker Identification Credential). This certification is administered by the United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and it is used by anyone who needs to gain access to secure MTSA (Maritime Transportation Security Act) areas.
To obtain the TWIC, you need to schedule an appointment with the TSA. You will need to provide a current driver’s license or United States passport as well as your birth certificate.
You will be asked to fill out paperwork and pay a fee during your appointment. You’ll have both your photo and your fingerprints taken. If approved, you will then receive your card.
2. Find a Labor Union
Longshoremen belong to labour unions such as the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA).
Find the organization that is located closest to where you live and determine the hours and location of the union’s hiring hall. Visit the hiring hall to learn more about current opportunities.
3. Begin as a Casual Worker
Beginning a career as a longshoreman means starting out as a casual worker. This means that you are not a union member and you will be given last priority when work is assigned.
Casual workers have erratic schedules, and sometimes, there are weeks with no work at all. Call or visit the hiring hall daily to check on available work.
If work is being assigned on a specific day, arrive at the correct time. As a casual worker, you will likely have to wait in line to receive a work assignment. Expect to do casual dock work for a while. In time, the union will come to recognize you as an “identified casual.”
While this doesn’t make you a union member, it does mean that you will be given preference over unidentified casuals.
4. Apply for Membership in the Union
All longshoremen are required to become members of the harbour workers’ union. Unfortunately, getting into a union can take several years, so you shouldn’t expect to make the transition from a casual dock worker to a longshoreman quickly.
When applying for membership in the union, you will have a better chance of being accepted if you have extensive industry experience. Those who have spent several years as casual dock workers, dock labourers, etc. are preferred over those who have minimal experience.
Once you become a member of the union, your schedule will be less erratic, and you will be assigned more specialized jobs. You will be given priority over casual workers, and you will have the opportunity to work your way up through the ranks in the union to earn a better position.
Life as a longshoreman isn’t easy. The job requires a lot of heavy lifting and can be quite dangerous. The erratic schedules for casual workers mean inconsistent paychecks. Once you become a full-fledged longshoreman, you will still be expected to work long hours in every type of weather imaginable.
The job isn’t right for everyone, but the salary and benefits make it worthwhile for many people. An experienced longshoreman can earn $35/hour, and the benefits are very attractive. There are plenty of opportunities for advancement in the union, and those who work their way up through the ranks can earn six-figure incomes.
Becoming a longshoreman takes time and commitment but doing so could be an excellent option if you are physically fit and willing to work outdoors in all types of weather.
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I am Adeyemi Adetilewa, a media consultant, entrepreneur, husband, and father. Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Ideas Plus Business Magazine, online business resources for entrepreneurs. I help brands share unique and impactful stories through the use of public relations, advertising, and online marketing. My work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Addicted2Success, Hackernoon, The Good Men Project, and other publications.