Keeping crew at the core
Earlier this year, BIMCO and ICS reported that there is a current shortfall of about 16,500 officers and a need for an additional 147,500 officers by 2025 in order to service the world merchant fleet.
The crew is the central pillar of the ship, holding it together at the core. No matter how intelligent technologies are, without crew, they serve little purpose. As a structural necessity, crew must be prioritised. They are an asset, not a cost. Staff must be happy, motivated and engaged in their jobs and the welfare of crew must be viewed as equally important as acquiring the latest technology or novel piece of kit that promises to ‘transform’ shipping operations.
A 2015 study by Stephen Cahoon and Jiangang Fei draws attention to the main reasons for crew leaving the industry prematurely. Deteriorating working conditions onboard means that many seafarers that leave within 10 years of joining have not even reached masters level as it takes 4 years to produce junior officers and an additional 6 years for them to reach senior officer status.
Commodore David Squire, Master Mariner and Consultant Editor says that motivating crew is an essential element to high yielding operations. Management must know how to motivate staff in their minds, their bodies, and their spirits to prevent early exit.
He believes that competence through education and training, good mental health to drive a positive attitude, direction to motivate, a balance of work and play to produce a happy & healthy lifestyle, safe & secure working environment, self-actualisation and moral values are vital to creating safe and productive working environments onboard.
But sometimes these things are not driven. According to Chris Wincott, Consultant at NJC Associates, seafarers’ states of minds often fall under one of the ABCs of motivation: Appreciation, Belonging, Care.
In his experience of working with clients to tailor-make approaches to develop the skills, confidence and effectiveness of individuals and teams in the shipping industry, Wincott says that seafarers often feel like they are taken for granted and not appreciated. This is often fuelled by an increasing number of instructions, checklists and measurements, and little recognition of their efforts.
Crew do not often feel a sense of belonging either according to Wincott. Treated as interchangeable units rather than a valued part of an organisation, not being involved in discussions or consulted about changes that involve their role is a critical mistake that can lead to lack of motivation and exit of the job.
The expert in leadership and management services to the maritime industry says that exclusion from decisions that may affect seafarers’ roles would quite understandably lead to a sense of exclusion. Rather than providing fuel to motivate, it fuels the desire to find a job where appreciation and inclusion are at the forefront.
The other big barrier to retaining seafarers is the lack of care that some feel their employers have for them. Wincott tells fathom-news that although seafarers appreciate the challenging environment they have chosen to work in, they would like their employer to shown some understanding of their personal circumstances.
The maritime industry is having a hard time retaining seafarers, and these reasons above may explain why. But why is it like this? The introduction of training in the Human Element Leadership & Management (HELM) has been inconsistent and the focus of this element and the impact on safety, efficiency, inspection results, is not being supported with consistent and effective training.
According to one study, published in January this year, HELM training does not benefit the non-technical skills (NTS) of all participants, one of the major contributors to human-error related accidents. For this reason, the authors conclude that HELM training is an ineffective method for improving NTS.
It is easy to understand how lack of appreciation, belonging and care can lead seafarers to lose motivation in their roles. But the ineffective methods of HELM training and direct human error related accidents makes it clearer why seafarers are hard to retain. Severe injuries and fatalities as a result of improper training in the human element is an obvious deterrent to any working environment and one that needs to be addressed immediately in the maritime profession.