Juggling the Crewing Conundrum

Some employers are born great, some achieve greatness and some have the chance to be great, but don’t have a clue how or why. So what are the keys to being a great employer in the shipping industry, and what keeps seafarers happy?

Stretched Relationships

Strechted relationship
Strechted relationship

Perhaps one the biggest problems for shipping is the fact that the relationships between seafarers and companies has become stretched over the years. Whereas seafarers once had a close relationship, perhaps even popping the head office while they were on leave – that has changed.

No longer is there a sense of a united front – people feel alone, and companies feel disconnected. Sometimes it is not even immediately clear who seafarers actually work for. The chain of contracts and sub-contracts, even sub-sub-contracts can leave people feeling a bit disconnected.

This is especially true when you consider that a seafarer is likely to have been recruited by a manning agent, who then contracts them to a ship manager, who is working for the vessel owner. The sense of belonging can be complicated and no too clear.

So what does that mean? Well, if you read the Maritime Labour Convention it is pretty clear as to where responsibility sits – and there are clear and defined lines of accountability for the health, wealth and wellbeing of crew. When it comes to going above the minimum, lowest common denominator…well that is when it gets a bit harder.

Who Wins

Winner 2
Who wins

One of the biggest problems – aside of course, that the relationships between seafarers and those who benefit from are distant and disconnected, is the fact that it can be all too difficult for crew to really shine.

How can seafarers differentiate themselves, how can a crew be considered excellent – as opposed to merely competent? Indeed is there anything to be gained by reaching or striving for more?

That is the crewing conundrum, just what are the benefits to crew of doing more, or trying harder and of exceeding the seemingly low expectations placed upon them? What, also, is the driver for owners, managers or manning agents to dig deeper – whether in terms of money, resources or emotion?

There seems to be something of an impasse – and it is all too easy to make the seafarers fall between the gaps. The truth, perhaps a little inconveniently, is that seafarers need to strive always to be better, to learn, to accrue experience and to climb the ranks, but also their own career ladder. While “employers” – whatever the contractual relationship says, will always be better served by better people.


What is the Answer

Question mark
What is the answer?

So what is the answer? How can crews be better looked after collectively, and how can individual seafarers be made to feel happier? How, parallel to that, can ship owners, operators, managers, manning agents and whoever else is in the chain of providing people, be made to see the benefits of going above and beyond?

It can be hard, bad employers are easily spotted – but sometimes the difference between a merely good employer and a great one can be subtle. In many ways it comes down to talking the talk and walking the walk.

Good employers may say the right things about attraction, retention, engagement, development and business models – but is that truly reflected in what they deliver to their staff, or even the seafarers that may be a couple of steps removed?

Just saying phrases like, “people are our most important asset’”, is no longer enough. It is words, not deeds that will and indeed should tip the recruitment and retention balance.

Make a Difference

Make a difference
Make a difference

Staff, whether in offices ashore, or onboard ships, are looking to their employers to make a positive difference. This is something likely to become even more obvious and acute as the generations perform their changing of the old guard.

As baby boomers move to retire, as Generation X steps to senior positions and Gen Y gets the work done, the pressure on employers to reflect the needs and wants of employees is becoming ever more critical. All that as Gen Z starts to rush headlong into the world of work.

Employees want the company to care about the environment – they want to have the tools to do so themselves. They want MARPOL and the protection of the oceans to be sacrosanct. As where there are mixed messages, that is where problems occur.

The number of marine engineers convicted of “magic pipe” pollution offences clearly shows that where companies are either trying to do the wrong thing, or where they leave matters to interpretation – well, that is where problems start.

Zoning Out

Great companies and employers understand the values of their employees and then seek to respond to those in meaningful ways. Though this is not always easy to achieve, and there are challenges to overcome.

According to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends survey, across thousands of businesses, in over 90 countries, 40 per cent of organisations admitted to being “weak” in helping employees balance their personal and professional lives.

While 38 per cent of leaders are also “weak” at integrating social, community and corporate programmes and aligning employee and corporate goals. It seems likely that these numbers are even higher in the shipping industry, sadly.

While another Global Workforce Study, recently found that a quarter of employees are “actively disengaged”. People are zoning out of their jobs – they are switching off and stopping caring. Which is hugely troubling.

Satisfaction Counts

Employee engagement 2
Employee engagement

So large and significant percentages of professional people the world over are feeling disengaged, dissatisfied and generally a bit down about their jobs. Again, while these are the figures and problems ashore, they are likely to be magnified at sea.

Seafarers are all too often cut out of the equation – either not seen, so forgotten. Not heard, so they cannot be listened to. Or they are simply ignored, a problem for someone else. Until, that is, something goes wrong.

So what can be done? Well there is a wealth of evidence to show a correlation between employee engagement and business performance. While such “business” may not readily capture what high performing seafarers do, a lack of claims, accidents and on-time, undamaged cargo deliveries do.

Employers across shipping need to think about the seafarers that are on their vessels. Whether owners, charterers, managers or manning agents. Someone, somewhere has to step up and own the problems, and the solutions.

Five Top Engagement Tools

1. Connectivity – Seafarers want to be connected with their families and homes. So good value, high quality internet access is a must.

2. News – Crews love to be kept in the loop, and services such as our NEWSlink can provide incredibly cost effective means of keeping seafarers in touch with global events, and those back at home.

3. Entertainment – Movies matter, and having access to great content onboard can make a real difference. It can entertain, but also bring people together.

4. Exercise – Encouraging crews to keep fit and health is another key aspect to life at sea. Seafarers with access to equipment and the time to use it are far happier…and fitter.

5. Training – Seafarers want to learn, to improve and to climb the career ladder. Giving access to the best training and certification around is another key sign of an employer that cares and wants the best.

What do you think? What are the signs that employers care, and what makes a good company a great one? Let us know what you think.

About Rob Parkin 22 Articles
Rob has worked in the maritime communication and content industry for over 18 years, during which he has gained great experience and insight in to this essential and sometimes misunderstood service sector. Coming from a media background, Rob has developed a passion for the welfare and connectivity of those at sea. Rob is very excited about new technologies and media services that are heralding the beginning of a new digital chapter in shipping.