Containers as moved at the Port of Long Beach in Long Beach Thursday, October 1, 2020. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

As online shopping grows year after year, so does goods movement around the world. Rather than quelling activity at bustling ports, the pandemic actually saw a surge of goods after its initial shock to the sector. Month after month, the Port of Long Beach loaded and unloaded record numbers of shipping containers.

Billions of dollars of goods pass through the Port of Long Beach, the nation’s second-busiest, each year destined for cities across the U.S. This level of goods requires a massive workforce. The port supports 51,000 jobs—about one in five—in Long Beach; 560,000, or one in 20, jobs in Southern California; and 2.6 million nationwide.

“Ports and supply chain companies across the country and around the world understand the importance of developing a skilled workforce to ensure the future of the goods movement industry,” Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero said in an email.

To that end, the port partnered with Long Beach City College in 2018 to develop the Maritime Center of Excellence, a program dedicated to professional development for jobs related to the supply chain and logistics sector.

Beginning in 2019, the short-term, highly intensive training program focuses on four areas: logistics specialist, dispatcher, logistics manager and transportation supervisor. Nearly 130 people have completed the training to date, with another 26 currently enrolled.

The program does not provide job placement services, but the course content—designed and taught by industry professionals—is a quick, affordable foot in the door for those looking for entry-level jobs that pay a living wage, Melissa Infusino, director of workforce development at Long Beach City College, said.

“When people think of the port, many times—and this is part of our challenge—they think of longshoremen,” Infusino said, noting such positions often have a waitlist of up to seven years. “But there are so many jobs that are available now, that pay a living wage and you don’t need a college degree for.”

Training ranges anywhere from 57 to 62 hours per course and the goal is to run at least two sessions per year for each focus area, Infusino said. If enrollment increases, each training could be offered more frequently she added.

Maritime Center courses are not-for-credit training, meaning participants pay to be there but do not earn college credits. Courses range from $440 to $495 but scholarships are available through the port that cover 80% of the cost. To date, 86 scholarships have been given.

After only a year of courses, the program was turned upside down by the pandemic, with classes postponed before being shifted online. At the same time, the pandemic increased the need for port-related workers as an influx of goods have made their way across the Pacific.

“We’ve seen during the pandemic just how essential the supply chain and its workforce are to the continued operation and well-being of national economies,” Cordero said.

The transition to online training was smooth, Infusino said, adding that training remains online. If people want to participate but lack digital literacy skills, she said the college offers free 18-hour courses that build computer skills.

The pandemic caused many to lose their jobs, which led to the program partnering with regional workforce development organizations, including Long Beach’s Pacific Gateway, Infusino said. The partnerships have expanded support for participants such as child care and additional financial assistance.

Infusino recalled one student—a single mom—who received a scholarship, went through one of the beginner courses and was hired as an office clerk in a company’s billing department. She returned to take an intermediate course, which allowed her to receive a promotion with her company to safety coordinator.

“We’re not only getting folks in the door,” Infusino said, “but now we’re also helping them to advance within their company.”