24 September 2019

During London International Shipping Week, I delivered my latest Maritime Recruitment Update at our Global Maritime Leaders Breakfast Conference. To develop my presentation, I have created a full report detailing my thoughts around four key areas in Maritime Recruitment:

Demand - what are organisations doing?

What is happening in Maritime?

Looking at the underlying marketplace, there is a lot going on and the Maritime industry has never seen such unprecedented change. Digitalisation and A.I continue to dominate discussions. They are already having a huge impact on the market and we will continue to see a changing Maritime industry as these areas accelerate in their influence on everything that we do.

Globalisation is another hot topic. With Brexit imminently approaching, reactions from organisations are mixed, with many remaining resilient and optimistic with a ‘business as usual attitude’ and no Brexit contingency plans. Others are already feeling the economic uncertainty and the UK becoming less attractive to candidates, particularly from Northern Europe.

For the first time, we are seeing multiple generations in our Maritime workforce that is emphasising the different needs, wants and expectations from previous generations before. This new Maritime workforce has the potential to change the desires and aspirations of “old-school” employees and create new Maritime workers that we have never seen before.

Cultural and gender diversity are at the forefront of everyone’s minds. You will be familiar with the statistic that ‘4% of Seafarers are female’ as well as some nationalities continuing to dominate the seafaring workforce, whilst other groups, such as European seafarers continue to decline.

Candidates’ expectations are changing and they are demanding a better work-life balance. Organisations are looking at how new generations are influencing the Maritime workforce with a different outlook on how their working life should be.

Many economies are experiencing full employment. In the UK in particular, unemployment is at a record low. I suspect that the people who are still unemployed are probably candidates that you may not want to hire.

What is important to note is that the Maritime industry is not stagnant, it is evolving and changing very quickly, and we must do all we can to keep up with this new journey.

New Vacancies

Year on year, Faststream Recruitment has seen a 16% increase in new vacancies registered. Over the last 6 months (March to September 2019) we’ve registered 390 new vacancies in this period. This is quite a big uptick compared to the previous period. Clearly, organisations are active, and they hiring.

What are organisations looking for?

In our 2019 recruitment survey, “76% of Senior Executives said more talent should come from outside of Maritime”. The usual suspects were suggested, including Finance, Energy, Oil & Gas, Aviation and Engineering to poach from.  More interestingly we saw talent from an IT or Technology background as popular choices too. Why do Executives think that more talent should come from outside of Maritime? It could simply be because Senior Executives do not believe that the Maritime sector has sufficient talent for the future. However, what it could mean is that the industry is evolving so much that organisations are beginning to feel that they require something different to succeed in this changing landscape. 

There are four key themes that organisations are requesting in their hiring requirements; the digital candidate, female leaders, soft skills and people who think differently.

We have seen an uptick in requests for digital candidates, at both an Executive and managerial level. Organisations are looking for new talent who will lead their organisation successfully into digitalisation in the Maritime industry.

Organisations are looking for different attitudes and behaviours in candidates. Experience and knowledge have become a given and on top of that, there is a requirement for candidates to have more developed soft skills. Examples of desirable soft skills include empathy, patience, the ability to listen, collaborative thinking and cultural and generational awareness.

In our Executive Search business, we have seen a step-change this year in requirements for female leaders. Increasingly more organisations want to bring in top female talent into Senior Executive positions. They are addressing that gender diversity is a problem, they want to do something about it and they are starting at the top. This, in turn, could prove wise and help to attract more female talent into lower ranks too.  

Everybody wants to hire somebody who thinks differently. The changing landscape is creating feelings in organisations that they need new hires who have innovative approaches and styles of leadership to ensure they can survive in this turbulent time of change.

Finally, organisations want new hires who can make money tomorrow, even better, today. They want someone who can make an impact, and who can do it quickly.

How are organisations hiring?

We have seen an increase, in what we call ‘Stop-Start Recruitment’. The brief starts for a role with a set of requirements, a couple of months into the search the hiring manager changes their mind and requirements alter in the profile of the person they want to hire. However, we are also experiencing organisations that make a decision to cease the search for the role completely and brief in a brand new role instead. The recruitment market at present is very fluid, and organisations are changing tact very frequently.

The challenge of ‘Stop-Start Recruitment’ is still being able to create a good candidate experience. With the likes of Glassdoor and social media sites so popular today, there are many avenues for candidates to talk publicly about their poor candidate experience. This is true of those who may feel they have been treated unfairly when the profile or role has changed midway through the recruitment process.

There is a huge difference in recruitment strategies in the Maritime sector. Ship Owners and Ship Operators are being very reactive versus the wider Maritime industry, particularly the OEMS and Marine Service organisations that take a proactive approach. How has this manifested? The Ship Owners and Operators are typically recruiting because they are reacting to something that has happened to them. It could be something positive like they have won a big project, but more often than not this reactive hiring is a result of someone leaving, somebody getting fired or someone not working out. Whilst the wider Maritime industry is being proactive and thinking ahead about whom they want to bring in to strengthen their organisation. They are thinking about digitalisation, considering what is on the horizon that can give them a competitive advantage and the people that they need to hire to make things happen. They are proactively planning ahead to ensure they remain competitive in a volatile landscape.  

What is happening in Executive Search? There are two key themes: targeted and safe. Organisations are being extremely targeted in their brief for Senior Executive hires. Although many organisations claim to want to bring in talent from outside the Maritime sector, the reality is that organisations are being very safe about who they hire. We rarely see Executives being recruited who do not have the specific vessel type or exact industry experience that they specified at the beginning of the search. Organisations are still focused on people who they perceive can make an impact quickly.

Cultural clustering is a huge topic in the Maritime industry but probably not talked about as much. This is not about an overriding cultural diversity issue but about organisations having cultural clusters within their business. For example, this manifests itself a lot in Ship Management; organisations have one dominant nationality in a particular part of their business. Organisations want to bring in a more diverse workforce into every function of their organisation and to stop hiring one particular nationality in one department. Senior leadership are saying that they need to bring in people from different nationalities, but the reality is ‘Leadership gets it, management doesn’t buy it’.

Supply - what are candidates doing?
New candidate registrations

New candidate registrations year on year is up 40%. Over the last year, we have seen it steadily increase, but in the last six months, we have seen a huge uptick in candidate registrations.

How are candidates behaving?

When we asked Executives in our survey earlier in the year about retention, “65% said they were either planning or considering changing jobs in the next two years”. This is a very large percentage of the Maritime sector and is having an impact on the numbers of candidates we see in the three types of candidates in the Maritime Recruitment sector; Active candidates, Passive candidates and Candidates on the cusp.

Active candidates are actively looking for a new job. They may be worried about their current job security or already be out of work. These candidates tend to apply for lots of jobs. You will see them on LinkedIn and sending speculative CVs and they may feel they have restricted career options open to them.

Passive candidates are employed and being bear-hugged by their current employer, they are not looking for a new opportunity. They are being contacted by recruiters on a regular basis and receive numerous ‘work for us’ messages on LinkedIn every day. They don’t have an up to date CV because they don’t need one and they don’t see the value in investing in one. You could refer to them as a L’Oreal candidate, “Because I’m worth it” – they know they are in demand, they know their worth and they know organisations want to hire them. A great example of passive candidates is Technical Superintendents. We see huge shortages of Superintendents globally and we frequently speak with organisations that have problems recruiting these candidates.

Candidates on the cusp are people who have a good job but are ambitious and striving for a better one. We affectionately call this group of candidates ‘tip-toers’. They may not be actively applying for new roles, but they are prepared to make a move for the right job. Beware though, these ‘tip-toers’ will be cautious in their intent of interest and will be worried about making the wrong decision. They will be seeking assurance from their network about your organisation and will require a lot of handholding by your recruitment team or representative. Tread carefully with ‘tip-toers’, these could be very valuable candidates, but need to be handled with care, and persuaded gently.

We see that in the majority of the placements we are making, those hired are people that come from the passive candidate and candidate on the cusp groups. Active candidates, for the most part, create a lot of white noise and they are not the candidates you are looking for to join your organisation.

Why are candidates applying?

“50% of Senior Executives said that in the last two years they had been worried about their job security”. This is quite prevalent in the Maritime industry from top to bottom as a result of tough times. The last few years have been hard, organisations and the market, in general, have found it tough and this has led to many people feeling insecure about the future of their employment.

When I presented at London International Shipping two years ago I spoke about what candidates were doing in a tough marketplace. I posed that candidates were not active and were simply finding their safe port in a storm. They wanted a safe, secure option to ride out the tough times and when the market recovered they would be able to do something about their career. However, you can’t stay in port forever. We are now seeing that as some markets are starting to recover, candidates who may not be entirely happy or are not fulfilling their ambitions, are now making decisions to make a change in their careers. Increasingly what we are seeing is these candidates coming out of their safe port and that is partly why we are seeing an uptick in candidate registrations.

They say there are only two reasons why people change jobs; something changed, or something didn’t. Many organisations are going through a time of restructuring, reshaping, and reinvention. They are changing themselves to survive and prosper in this changing marketplace. All of this change makes for an unsettled workforce and the majority of people don’t like it. Candidates are now seeking new opportunities because of the unsettling changes they are seeing within their organisations.  

We see a lot of candidates who are in one sector of Maritime but perceive that they have the skills, knowledge and ability to make a step change from one sector to another. They perceive this other sector to be a safer bet, where they can make more money or could be more successful. The feeling is ‘the grass is greener’ but I would caveat that and suggest that it might not be greener grass, rather it could be Astroturf.

Reward - what is happening?

“68% of the Senior Executives think that pay will be static for the next two years”. Most of the pay rises we see organisations providing are the basic cost of living pay rises; small percentages based on inflation in the places these people are living and working. Candidates are thus looking to change jobs to try and leverage a bigger pay increase.

Candidates want more money which is not surprising after suffering from static pay in tough times and reward remains high on the agenda for candidates looking for new roles. However, Senior Executives in particular in their search for new roles claim it is not their main motivator and that they are looking for the right opportunity in the right organisation. In reality, when it comes to the crunch, people rarely change jobs for less money. It is still a huge factor for candidates.

The desire for higher pay presents a problem between the expectations of a candidate on reward against reality. Candidates expect to change jobs and receive a pay rise; that is why they are seeking new opportunities. On the other side, organisations are being frugal and are carefully watching their bottom line and recruitment costs with a static view on pay. This has created a gap in the expectation of the candidate and the reality of what an organisation is willing to pay.

Some organisations want to hire candidates outside of the Maritime sector but “67% of Senior Executives think that Maritime does not pay enough to compete for talent from other sectors.” How is the sector going to compete for talent with other sectors that are sexy and attractive if it is not paying enough?

We are seeing an increase in the importance of non-money factors, particularly from younger candidates. Money is important clearly but there is greater emphasis being placed on factors such as Work-Life Balance. Candidates are actively asking things like “If I take this job, will I be able to work from home one day a week?” This is not unheard of in the Maritime sector but it is less common.

The future - what is going to happen?

​1. "New leaders with new ways of thinking" 

The Maritime sector will increasingly start to look for new leadership with new way ways of thinking. This talent is not going to come from the Maritime sector via the traditional routes of talent. The Maritime sector is starting to think and talk differently and if it can make the step stage through to action and doing, we will see this come into play quite quickly.

2. "Seafarers won't be your future Maritime leaders"

In the UK and Europe, we have an ever diminishing pool of Seafarers. Even though we have seen an increase in Seafarers in Asia, organisations will no longer be able to be dependent on sourcing single nationalities and will need to open up their requirements to a changing global workforce. As more traditional seafaring candidate rich countries become more developed, we expect to see a noticeable decrease in people moving into Seafarer careers when other opportunities are increasing, especially in IT, Technology and Telecommunication jobs ashore.

In addition to this, we see Seafarers coming ashore much younger and this is creating a problem. The future pool of Seafarers is becoming a puddle and the Maritime sector will have to look at different talent pools in order to future proof their hiring needs.  

3. "Attitudes & behaviours will trump skills and knowledge" 

If you can’t hire for skills and knowledge because you can’t hire Seafarers, you are going to have to start putting greater emphasis on attitude and behaviours. Organisations will have to start thinking differently about the people they need to hire and what they could bring to the party. Attitudes and behaviours will be what it is about. ‘Can we train and teach them?’ ‘Are they bright enough?’ ‘Are they curious?’ ‘Are they able to understand the Maritime sector having never been to sea?’ These are the types of questions you will need to be prepared to answer when interviewing new talent.

4. "Increasing pressure to raise wages"

We are going to see increasing pressure to raise wages due to the competition for talent. Ship Management organisations, in particular, are going to have it tough as they have traditionally hired ex-Seafarers and brought them into shore-side positions.

The increasing choice in opportunities inside and outside the Maritime sector for candidates will force inflation of wages to try and attract the diminishing talent pool. We must be able to attract more people to Maritime as well as be able to retain them.  

5. "Employees will be like your worst party guests"

My final prediction is based on the new generations of talent that we see entering the Maritime workforce. These employees will be like your worst party guests. It will be very difficult to get them to the party in the first place, they probably won’t RSVP, and they might not even reply at all. When they turn up, they will turn up late, they will drink all your best wine, and eat all your food and they are going to leave early.

We see this new workforce bringing an attitude of “What can you do for me? Not what can I do for you?” They want to know how you are going to develop them and help them move forward in their career.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of this update or any employment and executive search matters, please get in touch.

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