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A Comprehensive Deep Dive into Maritime Talent Acquisition for a Post-Pandemic World, Part 2

Last week we began our conversation about maritime talent acquisition. We discussed the importance of maritime shipping on the global economy, briefly touched on crew shortages, the need for quality talent, along with automation, and the future of jobs. This week, we continue by addressing changing demographics in the labor market and the importance of company culture to the next generation of seafarers.

Changing Demographics & Company Culture

The workforce demographic is significantly changing. As of last year, over one-third of the U.S. workforce will comprise of Generation Z (or Gen Z for short). Colloquially known as Zoomers, they were born between 1997-2021 (8-23 years old). They succeed millennials born from 1981-1996 (24-39 years old) & represent 35% of the total U.S. labor force [6] and precede Generation Alpha. Organizations looking to attract young talent to fill the ranks must review and revise the efforts made for millennials. For reference, those in Gen Z had never known a world where Google didn’t exist, were seven years old when Facebook started, and age thirteen when the first iPad came out. They are perhaps the most tech-savvy of all generations. These generations are increasingly attracted to technical jobs, which is demonstrated by the exponential rise in tech-related careers. An unquantifiable “cool” factor must also be considered when attracting said talent. Think SpaceX and Tesla. In short, the integration of more cutting-edge technology should help serve as a natural magnet to the younger generations raised in a digital world.

According to 2021 surveys by Salesforce, a significant number of demographic metrics help better understand recent trends. The COVID-19 pandemic was full of statistical tells on how to read different generations. Now almost in their 40s, Millennials grew up in an economic boom and are often stereotyped as being pandered by parents and adults (this was the generation of participation trophies). Yet, they are optimistic and idealistic—both powerful change agents when adequately nurtured and empowered. Gen Z, however, was born and shaped during a recession, and more so witnessed parents and those around them struggling through financial and employment woes.[7]

Salesforce shares that these statistics translate to more pragmatic behavior that focuses on intelligent investments and long-term value. Compared to millennials, Gen Z appears not to respond to marketing campaigns the same way. Gen Z has different behaviors in how they shop, interact with brands, and view money, such as Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. Sixty percent (60%) of millennials responded to emotional connections to brands they grew up with. Comparatively, Gen Z appears far more skeptical of brands and seeks more independence & individuality. They search for communities they can find a sense of belonging to (not restricted by a narrow appearance). Both Gen Z and millennials expect more innovation from companies in terms of products and services and their translation into digital experiences.

Concerning women in the industry, the latest numbers provided by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) reveal that women represent only 2% of the world’s 1.2 million seafarers, with 1% being sailors. Ninety-four percent (94%) of the women in the maritime work in the cruise industry. Shoreside, women hold a third of the global maritime positions. Since 1988, IMO’s gender program has been working with maritime training institutes to support women’s employment opportunities in the sector.

For retainment, Deloitte employment statistics show that only 28% of millennials are looking to stay more than five years with a company. Forty-three percent (43%) expect to switch jobs within two years (a figure that costs the U.S. economy $30.5 billion per year). A study by Glass & Company reveals that 75% of millennials believe the organizations they work for are more focused on profits than benefiting society. Which disappoints the optimistic, socially driven generation.[8]

It should come as no surprise that the typical lifecycle of careers has drastically changed over the past several decades. The legacy mantra of finding a company and settling in for 20 years until retirement has come and gone with the death of defined-benefit retirement plans. The younger generations see the expectation to work longer into their lives as a reality. As a result, naturally, they want more frequent breaks in which to enjoy life. The younger generations seek out jobs that will offer growth and skillset development that helps widen career options as they age. Companies should consider additional classroom training, conferences, and access to learning opportunities to translate this into building loyalty and engagement with this demographic.

Flexibility and wellness are other hot topics. COVID has proven that not everyone needs to come into an office every day to perform their duties and achieve results. Younger generations want greater control over their schedules with flex time and remote working. Although the seafaring life can’t entirely conform to shoreside operations (i.e., flex work hours), it still must recognize the issues at hand. Shoreside operations, however, will continue to play perhaps an even more significant role as the industry moves towards full vessel automation and autonomy. Therefore, remote working does benefit companies, as many are saving money by reducing office footprints.

In many cases, they increase productivity by allowing employees to work remotely in a setting of their choosing vs. under fluorescent office lights. Employers should address ways that help put anxiety at ease by articulating their care about employee wellness. Companies will need to find creative ways to keep their team members happy without sacrificing the underlining company objectives and standards.

Companies that engage and ask their employees what they want are finding the common trend and the importance of a healthy work-life balance. Employers that factor wellness programs into their attraction and retention plans are reaping the benefit. Examples include gym memberships, monthly stipends allocated towards personal wellness (i.e., messages or yoga classes), and educational opportunities to learn about nutrition, self-care, and sleep. Such efforts help objectively demonstrate an employer’s sincere commitment to their employees’ health, wellness, and longevity.

Given the financial devastation in the wake of COVID-19, coupled with a lack of financial education amongst the less affluent, challenges such as student loan debt, increasing healthcare expenses, and a high cost of living pose a significant emotional and practical toll. Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC) in 2019 reported that now more than ever, financial stressors contributes to monetary insecurity and heightened anxiety amongst employees.[9] Often, to address overwhelming debt, employees are working extra-long hours and hold multiple jobs. These trends can undermine an organization’s success through exhaustion and fatigue of critical personnel. Like the above antidotes for flexibility & wellness, support by employers can come in the form of robust retirement plans, steady wage increases, financial coaching, and student debt matching. Another consideration, in line with current employment trends, particularly in the professional sports industry, is offering partial payments via cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.

Ninety-four percent (94%) of those surveyed by BambooHR reveal that a company’s culture and reputation are essential determinants for job seekers.[10] Often conveyed during a candidate’s interview experience, it’s referred to as the “personality of an organization”. Company culture is a shared set of workplace beliefs, values, standards, behaviors, attributes, and overall purpose. It represents the sum of the organization’s thinking, saying, and doing.

Specific examples include the way assignments are given, opportunities for advancement, collaboration vs. working alone, dress code, break/lunchroom environment, support or pressure during sick days, inter-department cooperability, facetime with leadership, corporate responsibility, and overall positive impact on the world. For those that get this critical culture component right, it translates into increased engagement, creativity, innovation, reduced turnover and associated recruiting & training costs, greater interest from top talent, improved customer experience and satisfaction, higher productivity, improved morale, along with increased revenue and profits.

So, how do employers address culture and required changes to attract and retain new talent? For starters, the influx of young talent itself will more than likely serve as a means of averaging out the experience across the employee pool. Having an extra set of eyes from newer, less biased talent may help. However, anyone with experience in this industry knows that it is a proverbial large ship to turn. Perhaps introducing new working habits and procedures that focus on efficiency and more apparent justifications could work. It is frustrating and disenfranchising for fresh crews that are told, “because I said so” or “figure it out on your own,” instead of a thorough explanation. Robust individual training with direct mentorship would certainly further demonstrate commitment by the employer and places a stake in the game from experienced team members providing mentorship.

To remind companies of the importance of employer-employee relationships, fifty-two percent (52%) of Gallup Poll responders stated that they voluntarily left a company because their manager or organization did not rectify issues that could have prevented them from leaving. Neither their managers nor other leadership even spoke with them about their job satisfaction or future in the company. Perhaps a quarterly review of both the employees AND managers, reviewed by employees, could serve as part of a corrective action / preventative action (CA/PA) plan.

Intra-generational management is a term that we should all familiarize ourselves with. It refers to the apparent notion that each generation has its strengths and weaknesses and how to manage relationships and conflict in the workplace. Without the proper tools and training to provide guidance, experienced team members are having to deal with high-energy amateurs coming into the workplace that lack industry knowledge and discipline. In addition, leadership must note the many different perspectives, experiences, values, and goals that each generation poses.

Hayden Shaw, author of Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart (Tyndale Momentum, 2013), has developed a five-part process to help resolve differences:

  1. Talk about generational differences. “You can’t solve a problem if you don’t acknowledge it exists.”
  2. Focus on the “why,” not the “what,” and the everyday needs.
  3. Agree on how to accommodate different approaches.
  4. Maximize the strengths of each generation.
  5. Determine which option will yield the best results if flexing isn’t enough.

As outlined, changing demographics and company culture will play a paramount role in the future of maritime companies. To attract new and capable talent, organizations must recognize the variances in the next generations and may have to accommodate it in fresh ways. However, suppose the industry does not make deliberate efforts in addressing the demographic variations and challenges. In that case, shipping as a whole could fall victim to an even more significant lack of attracting new talent.

Please join us next week as we complete our three-part journey. The final segment will discuss crew shortages, industry safety statistics, supply chain vulnerabilities, and costs incurred for personnel turnover. As always, we welcome community engagement for topics discussed. Please feel free to comment and share your experience with other community members so we can all be as informed as possible.

[6] 16+ Millennials in the Workplace Statistics for 2021

[7] Millennials vs. Gen Z: How Are They Different?

[8] 16+ Millennials in the Workplace Statistics for 2021

[9] Employee Financial Wellness Survey

[10] The Definitive Guide to Company Culture

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