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The right people will futureproof maritime businesses

The global shortage of labour – skilled or otherwise – has imposed a new set of strategic priorities upon employers. Shipping is no exception. In fact, it is one of those industries most at risk from a shortfall, both at sea and ashore.

Countless other commentators have rehearsed the reasons for the supply shortfall – covid, a surge in early retirements, Brexit (in the UK), pressure on healthcare systems and carers, lifestyle changes and so on.

In addition, there is an impending largescale need to reskill. It’s estimated by the World Economic Forum (“WEF”) that by 2025, 40% of all workers will require up to six months of reskilling and it was announced at COP27 that up to 800,000 seafarers will require additional training to meet the industry’s decarbonisation goals.

Digital technologies and solutions are being adopted industry-wide to increase market competition and enhance operational efficiency. They also play a key role in the path to decarbonisation by reducing fuel consumption and emissions. However, to reap the reward of digital transformation, shipping requires skilled professionals who are able to analyse the vast amounts of data generated by vessels and find actionable insights.

All of this – and the fact that staff are constantly being lured away by the competition – gives rise to the need to prioritise staff retention and recruitment and in both cases (‘attract’ and ‘retain’), to invest time, energy and money into training, personal development and building a corporate culture and purpose that people want to be a part of.

Emerging challenges require new qualities

The rate at which change and unforeseen major incidents come at us nowadays has changed what employers are looking for in their people (as well as changing what employees are looking for in their employers).

It’s a given that the need for manual and basic cognitive skills will continue to decline, but demand for technological, social and emotional, and higher cognitive skills will grow.

What we are already hearing from our shipping clients when they brief Spinnaker on recruitment projects is a desire for people who can work with other people, who can self-manage and who can problem solve. And, yes, of course they are looking for specific technological, sustainability and data-related knowledge and experience for emerging jobs. But it’s the lack of those personal qualities and mindsets that employers are complaining about.

Put into plain English, this means things like resilience, tolerance to change and stress, critical thinking and analysis, taking personal responsibility for actively learning, leading others and showing by example. In fact, it’s simply how my parents (born in 1939) would describe a rounded person. Perhaps these qualities aren’t so new.

Building a people strategy

Putting all this together means that employers who are struggling to find staff anyway are further challenged by the fact that the people who do come along don’t often enough fit the profile they are looking for.

This means three things. First, your proposition as an employer must be stronger than ever to help you recruit the good people. Secondly, your recruitment process must recognise that even in economically challenging times, it is a jobseekers’ market – they have choices and you have competition. Thirdly, it is now a business imperative to invest in your staff, which in turn feeds into your employer proposition.

Previously, the maritime training and development market was very much two-tier, with a divide between companies prioritising internal development and those preferring to poach pre-trained employees from elsewhere. That simply isn’t sustainable any more.

Investing in staff isn’t just about training. The world is increasingly demanding ‘decent work’ as a part of the drive for positive change for individuals, businesses, investors, customers and communities. According to the WEF, this stakeholder capitalism is at the heart of redefining the future of work agenda.

Framing the future

So, back to my opening paragraph and, in summary, many businesses do need a new set of strategic priorities focused on finding, retaining and developing the right people to work in and run the business. It’s all a bit circular in the sense that those people are the people who give ‘you’ your identity and who ultimately will either fulfil your purpose, destroy your reputation or vote with their feet and move to the opposition …or perhaps take early retirement.
Source: By Phil Parry, Chairman at Spinnaker

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