Peter Schellenberger, founder of maritime consultancy Novamaxis, has some advice to keep crew happy.
I was really intrigued by the statements of the worlds largest shipmanagers during the recent Maritime CEO Forum held at the Monaco Yacht Club which I was very happy to attend.
While the argument of scale and subject matter specialist environments truly works for me, after many ship visits in my life to both owned an managed vessels, the two big challenges for quality managers going forward seem to be the availability of competent and well trained crew across all matrixes and how to escape the compromises in delivering quality following years of intense price pressure.
As a consequence of this and following merciless budget negotiations a lot of concessions are made, even pertaining to training expenses and essential needs like proper nutrition and catering budgets. Even more surprisingly , it still hasn’t fully filtered through to all that connectivity and giving such proper allocations to crew is the top retention factor, just ahead of shore leave and adherence to contract considerations.
Coming back to managers, the best ones will find good answers to the rental car versus own car maintenance question: size and scale does not guarantee best motivation and qualification of crew that is just going from contract to contract independent of their management employer.
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I have been on spotless 20-year-old vessels of owners that personally call the master and chief every week, are godfathers to their children and where crew would go through fire for them. You could eat from the floor both in the galley and the engine room. They regard the asset as their own environment as they are not ‘guns for hire’, they will hand over the vessel in perfect condition after a contract term and expect to see it back in the same state of affairs on the day they will certainly return.
The solution to this for shipmanagers is certainly good training, seafarer (and family) engagement programs, proper care in terms of medical, nutritional and psychological support with more than minimum standards required as by owners, but also clearly agreed service levels between manager and crew that are not negotiable by greedy clients and therefore this will also draw quality clients in the end.
This is not to say that managers are not generally doing a good job but greater awareness is needed of these particular issues and sometimes it will require to say “no” and eventually let go of a business opportunity when standards are demanded to be compromised.
There is certainly still very big potential to increase the shipmanagement share on the addressable fleet from about 15% today to a much larger number if owners feel that their assets are safe and well managed and that visibility and transparency are part of the chosen manager’s business proposition.
While it is important to “do good things and talk about them” it is not enough for managers to keep claiming that people are the most important asset while unfortunately this industry does not have the reputation of having the most effective HR policies in place for both seafaring colleagues and shore personnel.
Of course the challenges remain that we have lost good people after the blatant covid mistreatments of seafarers worldwide but also the lack of traction to attract new talent or women to our industry. I would recommend all marine HR practitioners to study very carefully the quarterly Seafarers Happiness Index published by the Mission of Seafarers and put actionable items to address the retention concern rather than repeating lip services that will eventually hit back on the companies.