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A Comprehensive Deep Dive into Maritime Talent Acquisition for a Post-Pandemic World, Part 1

Over the next three weeks, as industry thought leaders, SparesCNX will be performing a comprehensive deep dive into talent acquisition for the maritime sector in a post-pandemic world. We have broken down our findings into a three-part series that contextualizes the problem, provides pursuant research and statistics, and addresses potential solutions for consideration. As always, a great deal of wisdom resides in the crowd, so we welcome comments and engagement from our readers.

Diving in.

International shipping is responsible for ninety percent (90%) of the carriage of worldwide trade. It is the lifeblood of the global economy. Though it is on the brink of a massive transformation concerning convergences of technology and vessel autonomy (non-crewed and self-navigating), the overall maritime industry suffers from several issues. Those include shortages of seafarers, a pandemic-related crewing crisis, and a realized vulnerable supply chain network. This problem is not siloed to any organization; it is now the problem of every maritime company, flag state, and training institution. To cope with the changing times, talent acquisition and training at all levels, from the maritime academies to the trade unions, must immediately provide opportunities. Such opportunities should range from traditional seamanship to hands-on technical training centric to human-machine interface, or HMI. Left unchecked, it is a ticking timebomb with a short fuse. Impacts will be both obvious and subtle.

It is becoming increasingly harder to find bodies to fill positions (regardless of quality), which puts inflationary pressure on seafarer wages due to a smaller labor pool. As well, the existing aging workforce is presenting its own issues for health and welfare. Therefore, immediate measures must help retain working knowledge and experienced seafarers, accompanied by attracting the top talent in the world.

For mariners, few pleasures match the feeling of setting out to sea, especially before the days of cellular phones and daily email. But just like the seasons, times change. To survive, the maritime industry must become a better version of itself and offer an enhanced quality-of-life experience. Additionally, the sector will need to convince the best and most capable talent that it is an industry ripe for disruption. Solving challenging problems, the same way the transportation, space travel, and financial sectors have done, is a powerful attractor to high achievers.

Acquiring top human resources will require that challenging questions be asked. Questions like: how will companies demonstrate secure new jobs, safety, and better work-life balance that recognizes more time at home and less fatigue? The crewing crisis has rocked seafarers during the pandemic. Their welfare is on the decline. Crews do not get enough rest, require more broadband internet access, and see criminalization rising. Salaries lack competitiveness to shoreside positions and require several months away from friends and family (now being stuck on board while in port at an exotic and fun location). How are current and future mariners to be incentivized?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry must also consider the long-term impact on the quality of crew joining. The labor force has suffered a devastating blow from the global crew change crisis. Exhausted, seafarers have been stuck onboard ships for months after their schedule reliefs. That comes with no comfort when you liken being out at sea to being in prison with a chance of drowning. Even before the pandemic hit, there was a shortage of 16,500 seagoing officers. To further complicate, as per the International Chamber of Shipping [2020], global demand for seafarers is estimated at 1,647,500 (774,500 officer and 873,500 ratings), with an increasing demand for officers at 24.1% and ratings at 1%. [1]

As a counterpoise, we may see an equilibrium of automated and autonomous jobs when compared to crewed positions. The autonomous ships market is estimated to be USD 5,866 million in 2020, with a CAGR of 9.3% to reach USD 14,256 million by 2030. Thus, from simple tasks to fully autonomous decision-making (crewless port-to-port transoceanic voyage), the typical vessel crew may likely go the way of the Dodo bird. Extinct! However, that may be several decades away, as current problems won’t be resolved by future events.

When asked if Tesla’s autonomous trucks would put truckers out of work, Elon Musk responded, “we are simply trying to make BETTER jobs for the future.” As a comparison, the introduction of the automated teller machine (ATM) threatened the jobs of human bank tellers. However, the opposite proved true as a drastic rise of support-related jobs emerged with a surge of growth for the finance industry. Will the maritime industry enjoy similar swells as new technology is adopted and better jobs are created?

Note: Recognizing the importance of better jobs for the future, SparesCNX dedicates itself to the principles discussed and recruits top talent and experience from industry leaders such as Amazon, Kearney, JP Morgan, ABS, and Maersk, to name a few.

To provide relief to our fellow maritime executives feeling overwhelmed, we dove deep into the topic to provide statistics and a sampling of shared best practices across other industries. Please join us next week in part two of our three-part series to present our findings and recommendations. Questions and comments are welcome as we explore this topic together.

[1] Global demand for PH seafarers still high

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