Port of Seattle’s Lindsay Pulsifer is a Northwest pioneer

Mitsue Cook October 11, 2017 0

Lindsay Pulsifer. • Courtesy Photo

On August 4, the online issue of the Port of Seattle’s Connections newsletter announced: “The Port of Seattle is now recruiting for the next Maritime Division Managing Director.”

Lindsay Pulsifer is retiring after more than 30 years in the non-traditional field of Marine Maintenance. She is currently the Director of Marine Maintenance at the Port of Seattle.

“The person who follows her will direct the strategic and daily operations of the Port’s cruise operations, commercial and industrial fishing and work vessel mooring operations, a grain terminal, marine maintenance, recreational boating and storm water utility,” the announcement read.

Living her dreams and riding the economic booms and busts of Seattle, Lindsay Pulsifer is a woman of action who knows what her future is. She is the ultimate professional.

Long an advocate of women in the trades, Lindsay was among the first speakers in the Women in the Trades program in the 1970’s and Women in the Trades at Renton Vocational Technical School.

What follows is an interview with Lindsay Pulsifer, one of the first women in the trades in the City of Seattle. She is a modern pioneer woman who is determined to bring many young people—particularly people of color—into the trades.

Mitsue Cook: To what do you attribute your success? Did you have a mentor?

Lindsay Pulsifer: I have been lucky, but I realize that the harder I worked, the luckier I got. I have worked hard, used my resources and been creative in going after what I wanted or cared about. I have been respectful in my interactions, but have not backed down from fights.

We all need mentors! I have had wonderful, generous people all through my career.  They have helped me hone my skills, find my way, and imagine a future.

Career-wise, it has been everything from constant battling to relative comfort. As the first woman in my trade, I had to put up with a lot of BS, but I also found some kindness and mechanical skills, working with community activists to spread information, etc.

In addition, my career has been unexpected. I would not, in my youth, have expected to have the job I have or to be at the level in an organization that I am. I was a worker, but I was always looking for a challenge. When I got bored, I would always find something to do, changing jobs every three or four years. As it turned out, once I came to the Port, each time I got bored, there was a challenge that led me up the organization.

MC: What is the approximate composition of the port’s staff?

LP: About half the Port is represented by unions. 88 are members of the fire department, 150 police (airport mostly) About 500 are skilled trade personnel.  100 are in information and technical department; they bring in the computer “tools.” They are the security for all technology tools to drive what we’re doing (automated billing for vessels, recreational, fishing commercial, barges, etc.)

MC: How does the port intend to address the projected shortage of skilled labor?

LP: The Port has a goal to hire 150 high school and college interns each year.  We have slots throughout the organization, including in the trade shops.. College interns worked in the administration.  Marine Maintenance has had a program for high school interns to work in the trades for over 20 years.  Many graduates are now journeymen in their chosen crafts. We need to help schools and students recognize the availability of these family wage jobs. That is the business.

MC: Being a woman, how did you get to this position of director of maintenance?

LP: As a child, I always loved big machines. In the 1970s, I was an owner of an auto shop. I was also an instructor at the YWCA where I taught basic maintenance.

When there was a construction slump, I applied for a job as a Heavy-Duty Mechanic, an Apprentice with the Local Union 302. I was the first woman to complete the mechanic apprenticeship.

In the mid ’80s, when construction slowed and I was laid off, I went to the union hall and saw a posting for a Union Container Crane Mechanic.  I came to the Port to work on container cranes. You’ve seen those huge white or orange cranes that handle containers. They look like Star Wars creatures at the docks.

I became a Foreman and then moved from my union job to management. I had several jobs at Marine Maintenance and then became the Director of Marine Maintenance where I was for 17 years. I became Managing Director of the Maritime Division two years ago.

MC: What will you do after you officially retire?

LP: I believe in paying forward regarding helping and developing people. I am an active coach and mentor to my employees and to others inside and outside the organization.

I have always wanted to diversify the working force for women and people of color. So, for many years, I have volunteered to bring young people of different races into the marine industry.

I was among the first speakers for the Non-Traditional Employment “Women in the Trades.” I also attended the Women in the Trades Fairs. 21 or 22 years ago, three women formed the CWest—Career Work Exploration in the Skilled Trades.

We built the curriculum with the Department of Education and the Rainer Beach High School staff. They were in the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods. We had marine high school interns for 12 unions, 150 workers in the field and mentors for the high schoolers, who were paid to work with the mentors. 16-18 year olds could participate using DOE for labor and industry. Now, we need to reach junior high with the trade type of curriculum.  I would like to do some outreach work to schools.

MC: What is your philosophy and practice on the job?

LP: Rules and admonishments:

  • Follow the rules and regulations
  • Manage by the contracts
  • Be fair
  • Use your resources
  • Be willing to take an opportunity
  • Share what you know
  • Always leave the campsite in better shape than you found it
  • Don’t ever wish harder than you work

MC: A port of seattle flyer states that there will be 100,000 new jobs at the Port of Seattle. Can you advise youth and others as to how to enter the work world of the Port of Seattle specifically the trades or maintenance? 

LP: An important correction here—the 100,000 jobs will be created, stimulated, or induced in the entire region by Port activities. The Port is an organization that directly employs only about 2,000 people.

That said, the Port is vitally concerned with the industries we support and are engaged with and we hope to aid in the drive to assure that there are qualified workers available to fill positions.  Trade and Maintenance—common entry is through pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship.  Some of the trades allow entry of individuals who have acquired skills from non-union contractors (I do not have info about how non-union employers find their workers).

Attend job or trade fairs. Discover what you are interested in and pursue it doggedly! Reach out and tell people you are looking for a job, (I have hired people who have impressed me just by bothering to tell me they wanted to work at the Port.)

Port of Seattle, specifically, offers annual high school and college internships and seeks to make interns aware of the variety of jobs available here. The Port also works with the Seattle Youth Employment Program to set up internships in the maintenance shop.

MC: What are the career paths in maintenance and where do people go to gain access in a systematic way?

LP: Career paths in maintenance include Automotive, Carpenter (general and marine), Electric, Equipment Operator, Laborer (general, landscape, custodial), Painter, Plumber, Millwright (welder), Sign Writer, Sprinkler Fitter (fire protection), and Teamster (truck driver).  Hiring for union jobs is generally through the union halls. Get affiliated and start the process of gaining skills through apprenticeship.

Your trade work can lead to management positions, project management and other types of related work.

MC: Which institutions in Seattle or elsewhere would you recommend for marine work?

LP: In Seattle, some of the points of entry are Seattle Colleges Voc/Tech programs, Renton Voc Tech, ANEW, SOIC, direct engagement with unions representing given crafts. I think that a lot of community groups are working to find and offer information about this for young people. High School Career Centers may have information.

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