Staffing pressures grow

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

16 November 2016


Besides the matter of the general depression that has affected shipping throughout 2016, one of the most talked about subjects has been automation and the possibility of unmanned ships. While unmanned ships remain only a future possibility, two developments this week highlight the more pressing issues relating to employment within the industry both ashore and at sea. InterManager, the third party and in-house ship management association, has urged the maritime industry not to neglect its duty in ensuring a sustainable future. Speaking at CrewConnect Global, InterManager’s President Bjørn Jebsen and Secretary-General Capt Kuba Szymanski spoke of the necessity of working closely with key decision makers to maintain a resilient industry.
Addressing delegates during his session, Jebsen said: “If we look at the overall shipping industry we can assume that the world fleet will continue to grow, which means an increased requirement for skilled and competent seafarers. This may present itself with a few problems, though. With the downturn in the industry, shipping companies are cutting costs and may not make the required investment in manpower for the future.
“This is being seen through maritime schools, which are struggling to provide the education to give young people the training they need to develop the skills and competence our industry requires. We must work together to address a maritime education system that is struggling to meet even the existing requirements.” The notion of ensuring a sustainable future was further heighten by Capt Kuba Szymanski, who chaired a panel on the findings of Project MARTHA; a fatigue study co-ordinated between InterManager and other industry bodies. “We cannot ignore the findings, so what ship managers do next is crucial; whether that be reducing bureaucracy or listening to vessel’s staff comments and suggestions,” Capt Szymanski said. “If fatigue is not addressed soon, seafaring could be in jeopardy of becoming an out-of-touch profession. That is why it is vital the whole industry works together, starting today,” he added. Meanwhile, the 8th annual maritime employee survey conducted by UK-based Halcyon Recruitment shows that shore employees are also feeling the pinch. The two key points from the survey show confidence in shipping jobs is at an all-time low in the 8 years Halcyon has been running this survey and participants are growing increasingly concerned over their job security especially the severe lack of promotion and advancement opportunities. 36% of respondents reported a decrease in headcount at their current employers with brokers/charterers/traders expressing most concern. Considering the fall in freight rates, it may come as no surprise that only 38% of respondents received a salary increase in the last 12 months, down from 47% in the 2015 survey. Hardest hit are the executive/senior managers with just 30% receiving a salary increase, closely followed by the chartering/trading/broking community with 31% of them receiving a pay rise. 49% of respondents received a bonus in the last 12 months compared to 58% in the 2015 survey. Those working in the technical/health and safety markets are faring best with 53% receiving a salary increase and 60% a bonus. Of those survey participants who did receive a bonus, 69% were happy with what they were given, an increase from last year (63%) and perhaps an indicator of people realising how precious bonus payments are in the difficult markets the shipping and maritime communities are facing. Shipping has been here before of course with every downturn over the last half century seeing skilled and experienced staff leaving the industry and their place taken by less skilled personnel when a recovery occurs. While unmanned ships may allow for fewer personnel to be involved in their operation it is difficult to see how the present situation will provide enough skilled staff to keep the industry viable. The situation is not helped by the current regulatory regime that sees ships needing expensive equipment installed to meet new environmental regulations. Inevitably meeting the costs involved will leave less resources available for training. The InterManager statement highlights the concern over sea staff and the Halcyon report is also downbeat about training saying “Only 35% of participants advised that their current employer does provide/pay for/encourage training. Of those who do study, 73% say there is no support from their employer with respect to study leave or paid for courses”. Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is that the regulators begin to realise the cost implications on a struggling industry and allow some breathing space for the hard-pressed operators before introducing even more requirements. The industry could also help itself by making fewer proposals about meeting requirements such as those over GHG that the authors of the Paris Agreement felt need not include shipping at this time.