Memorandum by Southampton Institute (FUS
THE FUTURE OF THE UK SHIPPING INDUSTRY
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)).
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).
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
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
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 ObandoROJAS
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
(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
(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
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
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",
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.
A CASE FOR
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
(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.
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
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.
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
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.
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