Twenty-five years ago, a retired Master would define the traits of a great seafarer as being “a skilled colleague who shared his camaraderie on the vessel; a trusted mate. His seamanship and loyalty to the company were unquestionable. He was fully engaged and felt proud to keep our vessel safe, clean and efficient. We were one team on board and ashore.”
Today, it is difficult to identify such seafarers as jobs have drastically changed since a quarter of a century ago. This is mostly due to competition, globalization, regulations and automation.
Rather than socializing and exchanging experiences and knowledge, free time is spent on laptops. Life on board can be lonely, isolated, and difficult. Camaraderie is lost and seamanship is now defined by the use of software and new technologies. Seafarers must also spend time and money ashore to get tested and certified.
Job descriptions differ according to different company operations and expectations. A financial fund is managed differently to a traditional owner company, both of which differ from a publicly listed company. It is therefore obvious that simply having a fully-certified seafarer is not good enough. A great seafarer for one Owner is not necessarily great for all.
However, many Owners still use CV-pushing brokers and online CV-platforms to select seafarers. They are satisfied with a short video interview without an in-depth assessment whether their candidate is the right one. Such mercenary employment methods reflect more a mass-sales venture than professional HR services. Great seafarers are lost in anonymous candidate lists that get sent around to employers seeking seafarers. These seafarers fail to understand their given employers’ needs.
After multiple contracts with different owners and different technologies, seafarers get confused with requirements and methodologies. Beyond confusion, seafarers lose interest in the specific needs of their given employer and result in procedures with a common-denominator just to get by. Eventually, this negativity creates indifference and loss of engagement.
Seafarers’ jobs have also been affected by the use of analytic software. These enable Owners to monitor data-driven parameters to take efficiency-driven better-informed decisions. Although technical decisions may be good, they tend to overload seafarers’ duties by slashing the available real time and enforcing blind procedures. Metrics should never take over our understanding of engagement.
With a series of bad matches (not necessarily of bad seafarers but of bad company-to-seafarer matches), employers are quick to blame seafarers as lesser professionals. Eventually, both employer and seafarer adopt negative perceptions of each other.
Owners who neglect HR will fail to attract great seafarers, and even if they do attract them, these great seafarers may not perform for them. Seafarers who feel neglected lose their motivation and the vicious cycle of underperformance kicks in.
This “lose-lose” relationship defines underperformance as its common denominator. When Owners see low performance, they try to boost efficiency and lure better seafarers with higher salaries. But without an overall strategic HR plan, such actions only enhance the vicious cycle and a lot of potentially great seafarers are lost.
The ship is no longer considered home when mutual understanding is lost. It becomes a place to complete check-lists with the least of responsibilities until the contract is done. A lack of belonging can lead to unwarranted complications in port, delays and even accidents.
Alone, salaries (even high ones) do not create loyalty. Loyalty is not for sale; it must be earned by the employer. An Owner who uses motivation, recognition and engagement will benefit from performance, loyalty and commitment. Great seafarers are lost or gained by how they are made to feel by their employer.
The current shortage of qualified officers makes finding great seafarers difficult. But it is much more difficult to find great seafarers that are the right fit for a specific company. Forward thinking leaders, those best employers, should ask why seafarers failed their expectations and incorporate HR strategies to help them deliver their very best.
For best results, employers should be open to partner with local Manning Agents and use proactive HR strategies to engage seafarers, revive passion, boost productivity and, most importantly, ensure retention, otherwise competitors around the corner will employ them.
It is up to each individual Owner to decide how competitive they want to be and how good their pool of seafarers is; because Owners make great seafarers by building trust.
Symeon Tsalikoglou handles Business Development for Adriatico Crewing and is Senior Maritime Writer for Maritime Economies on the human element.
Adriatico Crewing are Manning Agents specializing in Ukrainian seafarers since 1990 from their own offices in Mariupol, Odessa and Piraeus.