The technical skills shortage in our industry takes two forms: first, there is literally a shortage of skilled people in the industry. Second, competence is – generally speaking – seen to be on the wane.
A common refrain when talking to the industry is that in former times, students at the top of the class would be attracted to a seafaring career. Now they are more likely to be tempted by IT or consulting or finance, meaning that the industry has had to draw its talent from the second tier. At the same time, today’s crews are less inclined to see seafaring as a lifelong career. A prevailing view is that five or ten years of hard slog are a pathway to an easier life ashore, and not necessarily in shipping.
No surprise therefore to learn that tanker (and other) companies are looking to re-organise their ship management structure to get the most out of their people. Such thinking is timely, but the answers are not easy. How best to ensure the right number of people per vessel, how to identify those who have a talent for leadership, how to improve company morale and communications and, ultimately therefore, to improve retention and morale.
Phil Parry, chairman of recruitment and human resources specialist Spinnaker Global puts it like this: “The role of the superintendent is mostly categorised in three ways: firstly, through technical and maintenance skills, secondly in a regulatory or flag capacity, and finally (and some may call it crucially), leadership and management.”
In other words the superintendent has to be part technician, part administrator, part leader. But how many times do those skills coincide in one person? And is this in the best interest of increasingly complex and regulated operations that need to be performed by fewer crew under greater pressure?
Would it not be better to hive off the non-technical – and even management/leadership elements of the job elsewhere within the organisation? Allowing people to play to their strengths surely is the recipe for the staff satisfaction and retention key to the safe running of our industry.
One thing is certain: as the skills shortage, in every sense, becomes more acute, the industry can expect old orthodoxies to be challenged.