Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Southampton Institute (FUS 18)


A sustainable recruitment policy for the UK shore-based shipping support industries


  This memorandum aims to demonstrate that in order for Britain's shore-side industries to maintain a ready supply of new recruits, a radical employment policy will have to be undertaken. Moreover, the present system of recruitment of MN officers is un-sustainable and shore-side industries need to employ trainees from a different source. This work advocates the employment of more graduates and a decreased reliance on ex-seafarers in order to achieve this end.

  This work summarises the research and findings of the author in course of his academic study and also the findings of the MARSK project. MARSK is part-funded by the European Commission under the Leonardo da Vinci programme. Its aims are to identify skills gaps and changing training needs in the European maritime industries. Moreover, the author has undertaken an investigation into recruitment practices of the UK shore-based industries as a subject for a higher research degree thesis.


  Britain's shipping support industry, either commercial or operational is significant. David Pugh (Pugh and Skinner (1996)) estimates that a portion of the shore-based industries, described as "shipping invisibles" in 1994, turned over £5,580 million. It has also been estimated that there are approximately 17,000 jobs in the UK shore-based industries that, according to employers and some professional organisations, need to be filled with ex-seafarers, and more usually ex-merchant navy officers (Gardner and Pettit (1996)).

Accepted practice

  These shore-based maritime industries can be defined as those companies that provide a supporting role for shipping operations, for example port operators, classification societies, ship repairers, engineers, insurance, broking, Government departments and agencies and educational establishments. Organisations within these sectors recruit ex-seafarers in technical capacities because of the experience that they have gained whilst at sea. Also, this experience gives them a certain professional status. The majority of the cost of their training has already been borne by shipping companies (European Harbour Master's Association 1994). They recruit qualified merchant navy officers, preferably those with Class One certificates, who are at the time employed at sea by shipping companies or officers employed in another industry. Gardner and Petit write that:

    "A number of land-based marine-related industries habitually use employees with seafaring experience. Apart from industries with a specific requirement for ex-seafarers, some sectors may draw some of their employees from the pool of ex-seafarers because of their operational knowledge of the shipping industry . . . UK marine-related industries continue to need to fill jobs which they have traditionally used UK seafarers" (Gardner & Pettit 1996 p. 9).

  In fact for many of these jobs employers insist that they are filled with people with the relevant seagoing experience and qualifications although usually there is no legal obligation for them to do so. Many of the professional bodies representing and made up of those in marine related occupations also insist that ex-seafarers are employed in those roles. In a memorandum to a House of Commons Employment committee in 1993 the UK Harbour Master's Association states that:

    "Many of these duties require the harbour master and his staff to speak with confident authority to ship masters and pilots. Those at a senior level are required to represent their professional needs to others. Seagoing experience is relevant and sometimes of considerable importance for this work. That is why harbour masters, senior marine department staff and pilots have almost entirely been recruited from the sea-going officers of the British merchant fleet." (HoC 1993 p. 134).

  Further, the UK Pilot's Association (Marine) in its 1995 policy document states that it is a basic requirement of pilot candidates that they should possess a Class One certificate of competency or equivalent because:

    "Since it is essential that the experience and skills that a candidate brings to the profession are in place as a foundation upon which specialised pilotage training can be built, it is therefore necessary to define minimum standards required of a candidate". (UK Pilot's Association 1995).

The problem

  Several recent reports (Gardner & Pettit (1996), McConville (1995), HoC Employment Committee (1993)) have drawn attention to the declining numbers of UK personnel who are employed as deck and engineering officers at sea, numbers of which are at an all time low. Needless to say the effects of increased competition with other countries UK ship owners were forced to economise on the costs of running and maintaining their ships. During the late 1970's and early 1980's many UK owned and registered ships were "flagged out". Their owners were then in a position to employ "low wage" foreign nationals as crew and officers for their ships which they were unable to do whilst on the UK register.

  The use of non-EC nationals as crew and officers on ships has had an effect upon the numbers of young British (and European) people that are recruited as officer cadets. In the 1960's the UK industry would typically take on 2,000 cadets a year. During the early 1980's only 150 per annum were recruited; this level has not risen above 450 per annum since. It has been estimated that the industry needs to recruit 1,200 cadets per annum to maintain levels (McConville and Glen 1997).

  Bernard Gardner at a conference in 1998[78] gave a paper based on up-dated figures from his original survey in 1996. His findings were presented in a series of graphs or "simulations". Graph One below shows a "no-intervention" scenario. He has based the cadet intake on 650 per annum from 1998, a recruitment age of between 25 to 44-years-old into the shore-based industry, and a demand from those industries at 421 per annum. The data were based upon research findings for his 1996 study (Gardner and Pettit (1996)) concerning the recruitment age and shore-side demand. At the moment, he shows that the natural wastage, that is the normal and acceptable numbers of officers leaving the sea, is in balance with the shore-side demand, at 6.5 per cent. The pool is made up of officers with a Class One certificate in either Deck of Engineering departments only.

  As can be seen in the chart, without change in accepted practice, or an increase in numbers of cadets, the level of wastage from the sea to the shore-side industries increases to unacceptable levels in about 10 years time. The pool of officers also diminishes. Gardner hypothesised that when wastage rates reach a certain level, ship owners will stop training altogether because they are unable to retain their officers for long enough periods.

Solutions to the problem suggested by others

  Other organisations and commentators have made suggestions to solve this skills shortage. Suggestions include:

    (1)  Recruit ex-Royal Navy officers.

    (2)  Employ other EC nationals.

    (3)  Employ non-EC nationals.

    (4)  Increase officer-cadet recruitment to sustainable levels with Government subsidy.

    (5)  Recruit cadets with a higher academic skills onto a "fast-track" scheme so that they qualify in the minimum amount of time.

    (6)  Recruit and train graduates with theoretical underpinning knowledge straight into the shore-side industries.

  The most popular suggestion within the industry is to employ ex-RN officers and also to increase the numbers of cadets in training. However on closer scrutiny and quantitative analysis based on the work of Bernard Gardner (Gardner and Obando—ROJAS 1998) only one of the above suggestions would lead to a sustainable recruitment policy for the industry.

    (1)  The numbers of ex-RN staff are inadequate to fill the vacuum left by MN officers. It can be also argued that ex-RN people lack many of the skills of their MN colleagues in trading and cargo handling for example. In certain areas they would require significant training.

    (2)  The industry would find it difficult to employ other EC nationals, as this is a problem faced by other European states.

    (3)  The recruitment of non-EC officers poses many other problems; immigration, culture, language, the exportation of knowledge and skills etc.

    (4)  Gardner's simulations show that even if levels of cadet intake were immediately raised to 1,050 a year from 1999, they would still be inadequate to meet the demand from the shore-side industries. Wastage rates would still reach unacceptable levels. Further, recent attempts by Dutch Authorities to recruit large numbers of young people into a career at sea have failed because of lack of interest.

    (5)  Gardner demonstrates that even intakes of "fast track" cadets would not be adequate to meet demand even if enough young people could be attracted into the industry.

    (6)  The direct recruitment into the shore-based industries is the only sustainable policy for shore-side companies.

  Finally, recruitment policies of other shore-based maritime industries outside of the UK differ from the accepted practice here. In other countries, marine pilots, VTS operators, surveyors, consultants, agents etc., may not necessarily have a seafaring background.

Why new methods of recruitment must be used

  An alternative view of the recruitment structure of the industry is that shore-side employers who take on ex-seafarers are merely "poaching" ready-trained staff to save the costs of training. At a conference[79] it was implied that ship-owners and operators had to bear the brunt of the costs of training officers only to see them take jobs up ashore before the company could benefit from their investment. In fact this problem in the shipping industry is not new. It has always been endemic, as not all seafarers find that they are suited to a long career, or even a medium term career in the merchant service (Hill 1972).

  Furthermore, the environment that the industry works in has changed, and continues to do so. For example:

    —  Ships have increased in size and require less crew.

    —  Their officers require different skills.

    —  Typically MN officers are taking their class one certificates later in life. Only 5 per cent of UK officers under 30 hold a Class One certificate (McConville and Glen 1997).

    —  The pool of young people available for recruitment has decreased (DFEE 1997).

    —  More school leavers are going on to further and higher education (DFEE 1997), the products of which maritime employers seem to have little interest in.

    —  Ship owners are trying to compete with the armed forces and other employers for the same, diminishing pool of people.

  Finally when comparing the shore-side maritime industries with that of others in the UK it seems that they are out of touch with modern human resource practices. Theorists and employer groups, such as the CBI advocate a different strategy in cases of skills shortages. Employers in this sector have to move from a "poacher" to a "gamekeeper" model of recruitment. The poacher model can be described as a company that depends upon a ready supply of labour. It will carry out little training and will use salary levels and recruitment consultants to prise away employees of competitors. This in the long term is un-sustainable. Gamekeepers however minimise their dependence upon the ready labour market by employing novice recruits and investing in their training to expert level (Atkinson (1989)).

  From the evidence presented above, and from personal discussions and attendance at conferences the author can conclude that skill or manpower shortages in the shore-based maritime industries are not caused by economic influences alone. These influences may affect the way the industry carries out its business, but the skill shortage in its self is caused by largely inherent recruitment and training practices based upon historical precedent. The industry in the UK has been somewhat spoilt in the past by the country's position as a major ship owning and trading nation with a mostly "flagged-in" fleet employing large numbers of nationals to man it. This situation has changed. Although UK ship owners still own a large proportion of the world's merchant fleet, the numbers of UK officers in training has declined to a level which cannot sustain the industry in the near future. Moreover the industry, ashore and at sea, likes to identify its self as a "whole", a comfortable "club" of merchant navy officers, who have a common background. This perception by the industry is wrong. In cadet training and recruitment terms, the interests of the shipowners and operators are not the same as those of the shore-based industries, who contribute nothing to the costs of training.

  The dogmatic view that so many ex-seafarers are needed in jobs ashore is based upon two factors: Firstly financial; it has always been cheaper to "poach" experienced people in industry than to train. Secondly, cultural; ex-seafarers like to work with other ex-seafarers. There is a rapport between them, they "speak each other's language"[80], and they have been indoctrinated into a strong and identifiable culture. Furthermore, this culture contains a certain arrogance which forms a prejudice against people (in the workplace) who have not been to sea. So therefore more often than not, recruitment decisions are not based upon empirical evidence, or as some bodies would see as good practice, but on custom, assumption and cost. Officers that are employed ashore in various professions, with varying degrees of training can really be seen as paid "amateurs". Arguments held by the industry that many of these shore-side jobs must be filled by ex-seafarers do not stand up to scrutiny. These decisions on a recruitment and training strategy for companies should be based upon contemporary methods and practice and rely upon evidence rather than supposition. The following section presents the argument that non-seafarers with the right education, aptitude and training can carry out many of these jobs ashore.


Research Results

  In order to ascertain how the shore-side industries perceive the problem, and to measure how they intend to cope with eventual shortages, the author carried out a series of interviews with employers in different sectors of the industry. Interviews were based upon a semi-structured method and recorded on tape. These recordings were later transcribed and analysed. The findings can be summarised as follows:

    (1)  For commercial companies, that is those involved with trading, broking and servicing ships and their cargoes, practical seafaring knowledge is no longer seen as being so important. Sometimes a wider appreciation of business is preferred, as in some cases, law.

    (2)  People new to the industry can be marinised by going to sea for short periods; sharing knowledge and experiences with colleagues who are ex-seafarers. Usually just one or two ex-seafarers working in an organisation are used as an information resource.

    (3)  Surveying and consultancy companies feel that although they would theoretically have the resources to train a non-seafarer, they fear that they would not have the financial resources to do so. Further, their clients pay for the experience of an ex-seafarer and insist upon ex-masters undertaking their work. However, it was pointed out that in other European countries, such as Italy, surveyors and consultants are not ex-seafarers but have academic and professional qualifications.

    (4)  Classification Societies could depend more upon graduates if they had to, which seems likely


    (5)  Marine departments in ports, one of the largest employers of ex-seafarers still insist that pilots, VTS Operators (VTSO), berthing masters, etc., have a Class One Deck Officer's Certificate or at least some shipping or port experience depending on the job. In the port of Rotterdam, VTS supervisors can rise through the ranks, recruited from relatively in-experienced seafarers and bargees. However in the UK employers still insist on recruiting holders of those with master's tickets.

Existing Schemes

  A number of employers and organisations already recruit and train non-seafarers into jobs that in the recent past would have been filled with ex-seafarers. These examples indicate a change in attitude in some parts of the industry away from the accepted view.

Lloyds Register

  Lloyds Register recruit and train young people much earlier in their careers than most organisations do in the shore side industry. Lloyds operate a graduate recruitment scheme where naval architect and marine engineering degree holders are recruited as trainee surveyors and engineer surveyors for the purposes of classification. After initial training the new entrants spend several years in a development programme under the supervision of an experienced surveyor or engineer. They complete in-house courses, a period of secondment to a ship builder and a short time at sea to gain experience. When they have qualified they are treated by Lloyds no differently from their colleagues that had been previously naval architects or ship's engineers.

Bunker Broker Association

  The International Bunker Brokers Association have created their own training courses where they have attempted to marinise people who are new to the industry. This can often involve ship's visits or even a short period at sea.

Maritime Degrees

  Many universities and colleges of higher education teach full time degree courses in maritime subjects. Sometimes these courses mirror the professional courses that officer cadets undertake, but with a higher academic content. Other courses are more specialised such as the BSc (Hons) in Shipping Operational management taught here at Southampton Institute for example. This type of course has more relevant content than a deck officer's course to the commercial sector of the shore-side industries, although it does lack any practical experience at sea or in the work place.


  There have been various schemes, sometimes based upon competence based training methods that have enabled people with no formal seafaring experience to carryout jobs in the industry, such as pilot or surveyor for example, competently.


  The jobs and roles of marine pilots and VTS operators in marine departments of ports have often been compared to similar jobs in the aviation industry. The research undertaken in this area by the author has focused upon the job of a Vessel Traffic Service Officer (VTSO), comparing it to that of an Air Traffic Controller Operators (ATCO). The functions of the two jobs are not dissimilar. Both involve monitoring radar screens, communications and ensuring the safe passage of their charges. In recruitment terms the fundamental difference is that all ATCO's are selected from young people under the age of 27 with usually no aviation experience. Whilst VTS operators are normally recruited from among the ranks of ex-seafarers, not always officers, but people with experience at sea. Selection procedures differ between ports for VTSO's, but in general they are selected upon accredited experience (at sea) and by interview. ATCO's are selected by interview and empirical testing of their inherent abilities.


  The MARSK project partners have developed a concept that could be applied to the shore-side skills crisis. This methodology helps participants recognise that skills needs change because of fluid economic influences, technology and demographics and this situation needs to be analysed holistically. The MARSK project highlighted the need for relevant employers to maintain a discourse with providers of training and education. In order to facilitate this interaction, MARSK partners have developed the concept of "Learning Networks".

  The project findings stress the fact that employer's needs change and that there is a need to attract people with the matching skills. To achieve this they need to interact with the training infrastructure. Furthermore, training and education providers, such as universities and colleges, need to anticipate the market needs and facilitate awareness and access to learning resources. This can be achieved by a set of collaborative responses; both the promotion of training and career opportunities, and new training resources and facilities made available to meet demand. Future skills issues can be analysed by using scenario modelling.

  MARSK aims to demonstrate how learning networks can be promoted. The diagram below illustrates this. The partnership has founded an Internet site containing an interactive database of European maritime training courses; it promotes industry and recruitment through an annual marine recruitment fair in Southampton. In the next MARSK project, partners will investigate how access to courses can be improved through technology.

  Given the circumstances outlined above concerning the supply of skills to the shore-based maritime industries, Learning Networks would provide a framework which Government, employers and training providers would be able to interact within in order to ensure a supply of people with the right skills.


  The UK shore-based maritime industries for many years have enjoyed a ready supply of people with experience of the sea. However, because of economic, demographic and to some extent technological changes, this supply of experienced seagoers is diminishing. It is already too late to rely on boosting the old "cadet to seafarer to shore" style of training. Something more radical is needed. The employment of more graduates into the industry therefore decreasing the demand and reliance on ex-seafarers would ensure a quantitative solution to the skills problem. This policy would also have a secondary affect. It may encourage ship owners and operators to train more people as MN officers because they would not lose them to the shore-side industries so soon in their sea going career.

  The idea of a Learning Network would further provide a method where employers and education and training providers could interact to solve some of the qualitative issues. One of these issues, or obstacles, is the culture of much of the industry however. Many employers, professional organisations and actors will be extremely resistant to such a change. In order to maintain and enhance the skills base, the industry must be persuaded that a change of course is necessary and must be implemented soon whilst there is not only an industry still in operation, but also while there are significant numbers of "old hands" in the work place to pass on their experiences.


  Atkinson, J (1989). "Four Stages of adjustment to the demographic down-turn" in Personnel Management August pp. 20-24. Institute of Personnel Development, London.

  BIMCO, (1990). "The world-wide demand for and supply of seafarers" University of Warwick, Warwick.

  BIMCO, (1995). The world-wide demand for and supply of seafarers: Up-date University of Warwick, Warwick.

  DFEE (1997) Labour Market and Skill Trends 1997-98. Department of Education and Employment. Skills and Enterprise Network, Nottingham.

  European Harbour Masters Association (1994). Report of the working group on training and availability of port marine personnel: 5th congress, May, EHMA Marseille.

  Gardner, B and Pettit, S (1996). A study of the UK Economy's requirements for people with experience of working at sea, Cardiff University of Wales, Cardiff.

  Gardner, B and Obando—ROJAS 1998 "The inadequate supply of experienced seafarers for sea and shore based roles". Conference paper "Manpower shortages in the Maritime Industries" Greenwich Forum, 27 October London.

  Hill, JMM (1972), The Seafaring Career, Centre for applied social research Tavistock.

  House of Commons, (1993). The future of maritime skills and employment in the UK November, HMSO, London.

  Joint Working Party, (1990) House of Commons British Shipping: Challenges and Opportunities HMSO London.

  McConville, James (1995). United Kingdom Seafarers: Their employment potential, The Marine Society, London.

  McConville, James and Glen, (1997) "The Employment implications of the UK's merchant fleet's decline", in Marine Policy vol. 21 no. 2 pp. 267-276.

  Moreby, DH and Springett, P (1990). The UK shipping industry: Critical levels study British Marine Charitable Foundation, London.

  Pugh, David and Skinner, L (1996). An analysis of marine related activities in the UK economy and supporting science and technology: IACMST (OST) Southampton.

  UK Pilots Association (1995). Policy Document of the recruitment and training of marine pilots: July, UKPA, London.

Sean M Tarver BSc (Hons)

Southampton Institute

Maritime Research Centre

78   Greenwich Forum "Manpower shortages in the Maritime Industries" 27 October 1998, London. Back

79   EC Conference, "Is the European Seafarer an Endangered Species?" Dublin December 1996. Back

80   Interview with John Gill, Recruitment Consultant for Clyde Marine Ltd, 27 October 1997. Back

81   See "Lloyds Register" below. Back

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