Finding your first job at sea

01 March 2019

Finding that first job at sea can be tricky | Kelsey Connolly | Faststream Recruitment

In an industry where there is a rising demand for experienced seafarers but with a decreasing career lifespan as a seafarer, where do newly qualified officers fit into the picture? How will this impact the job prospects for newly qualified cadets? We bring you our experience of the marketplace and what our future predictions are.

Prospects for young, newly qualified officers

As a global maritime recruitment business, we are contacted regularly by newly qualified officers seeking their first job at sea. This can be a difficult time for these candidates when there is predominantly a higher demand for more experienced officers.

Ship owners and managers do not find it challenging to source candidates to enter into their cadet schemes and offer sponsorship to many EU/UK nationals as officer cadets to work in the various shipping sectors of the merchant navy. The ‘best in class’ cadets will often secure employment with their sponsor which leaves little demand for newly qualified officers post cadetship.

The right cadetship is key to future employment

For newly qualified cadets, finding their first contract of employment is influenced by the type of vessel they secure their cadetship on.  This can be a significant life choice for a cadet and probably not one they realise that will impact them so vastly in their future job prospects.

If a cadet wants to work onboard an LNG vessel but acquired their sea time in their cadetship by sailing on a cruise liner, then they will find it tough to secure employment on an LNG ship due to the various endorsement and additional qualifications needed to sail with this cargo. Whilst some skills are transferable in the maritime sector, others require sea time onboard certain vessel types and this can be restrictive to transitioning from one vessel type to another.

This highlights the importance of researching the various shipping sectors prior to applying for a cadetship. For instance, rotations in the offshore sector are often a few weeks whereas on a cruise liner it could be as long as 6 months. Other factors such as on board facilities, cabin arrangements and remuneration packages could play a big part in the decision making process for a junior officer.

Cruise -The future is looking bright for seafarers

One of the markets Faststream is seeing an accelerated demand for qualified and experienced seafarers is the cruise sector. Many leading cruise liners are foreseeing a future skill gap in their workforce due to the acceleration of cruise ship builds (123 new cruise ship builds planned in the run-up to 2027) and are investing heavily in more cadetship schemes to fill their lower rank positions and ensure they plug this gap for future years. This can only mean good things for those interested in a career as a seafarer with potentially more cruise cadetships on the horizon.

‘Robbing Peter to pay Paul’

Ship owners and managers outside of the cruise market are heavily reliant on existing talent in the marketplace. Poaching candidates from competitors is a commonplace. This is a real-life case of ‘robbing Peter, to pay Paul’ and is not a sustainable strategy in the long term for the ship owner/manager or the supply of candidates in the seafaring community.

Investing in junior talent is imperative for the future sustainability of the shipping community and cadetships have an important role to play in ensuring the future demands of seafarers are met.

Cost efficiencies are as prevalent as ever

The shipping industry is a business and thus always looking for cost efficiencies. Many shipping companies we work with are focussed on adding value to remuneration packages. We are seeing an increased trend in offering additional benefits like better rotations (shorter and fairer), leisure facilities on board, free Wi-Fi, and the ability to have family on board. Faststream has found that these all feature as the most desired benefits that candidates have requested in 2018.

Some shipping companies are looking at alternative nationalities for cost efficiencies to attract candidates to their roles. Businesses have had to change their way of recruiting and can no longer be dependent on sourcing single nationalities and need to open their requirements to a global workforce. As more traditional seafaring candidate rich countries have become more developed, we expect to see a noticeable decrease in people moving into seafarer careers when other opportunities are increasing, especially IT and telecommunication jobs ashore.

Our future predictions - Generation Z Seafarers

In a market of ageing experienced seafarers, juniors are seeking to come ashore earlier than previously experienced in the marketplace. Hiring managers are well aware of the growing skills gap between the juniors and newly qualified cadets. However, a new generation (generation Z) are our future seafarers and they are bringing different needs than seafarers from the past.

Martin Bennell, MD of Faststream Recruitment EMEA and Americas article ‘The Future competitive landscape of hiring seafarers’ examined the future trends of generation Z and the demands they will be making of their employers in what we predict to be a ‘war for talent’.

Seafarers and potential candidates that were born from the mid-’90s onwards are making bigger demands of their potential employers. In our recent survey of cadets at Warsash Maritime College based in Southampton, UK, in 2018, an important issue for future seafarers was for competitive pay in the market, ensuring the attractiveness of an industry that they are focussed on entering.   

Improved employee benefits are going to be a must for this generation, citing that they expect paid sick leave, family health insurance and maternity & paternity leave as a given. They also want access to improved home comforts including on board gym and access to fast and reliable Wi-Fi. All items that outside the seafaring community would be commonplace; our industry has got to improve to mimic other industries before this generation turns its back on it for good.

“We want an avocado and we want it right now” This generation wants to know what you can do for them, not what they can do for you. The speed of progression through the ranks and then to shore is increasing.