The maritime industry is a vast universe in itself, and the work is challenging yet dynamic. However, maritime sectors are struggling to recruit the desired workforce. There is a palpable shortage of employees, especially in the commercial and operational segments. That’s why many maritime companies are forced to extend their budgets to recruit desirable candidates.
Some believe the job market hasn’t recovered from the after-effects of the ‘Great Resignation’ when people started reassessing what they want from their careers after the pandemic. According to a shipping consultant named Drewry, the gap for officer availability in the maritime industry has widened to 9% globally in 2023, compared to a 5% shortfall in 2022.
In this article, we will discuss some of the challenges faced by the maritime industry for recruitment and how they can be resolved. First, let’s talk about the challenges.
The shortage of employees in the maritime industry is not just limited to the US. Even international shipping companies are facing problems in keeping up with increased logistics demands as more people turn to e-commerce. Manufacturers often face backlogs due to issues in the global supply chains, which translates to ships waiting in ports, sometimes for weeks, to unload their cargo.
The maritime industry faced acute business challenges during the pandemic, so many people lost their jobs. However, although the industry market has recovered completely, companies find it challenging to maintain the required workforce. Let’s see what specific challenges the global maritime industry is facing currently.
Maritime operations have to keep up with the evolving technology of the current times, which increases the demand for skilled professionals in the industry. However, employers must deal with more competition and prolonged hiring processes trying to recruit the ideal candidates. The industry is also witnessing a growing sentiment to hire employees from different sectors, but we have yet to see a significant change.
Employers often don’t want to hire from different sectors in the maritime industry, let alone consider candidates from other industries. Also, candidates often feel that the maritime industry is not as digitally advanced as they expect their work sector to be. Some candidates have concerns about the industry’s diversity and pay scale.
We are also witnessing a generational shift in the global workforce, and there are predictions that 27% of the global workforce will comprise members of Generation Z. The new generation tends to value diversity and inclusivity in the workplace, and they are also concerned about the social and environmental impact of the industry. The generation also has more career avenues available than the previous generations, so the maritime industry has to find ways to adapt to their unique career expectations.
Retaining the existing workforce is a growing challenge for the maritime industry. Even senior executives of the industry plan to switch employers in an average of two years. Currently, challenges and growth opportunities in a company have become intrinsic motivators for employees.
Extrinsic motivators like position advancements and rewards have become a thing of the past. Employees look for career progression that offers opportunities to learn new things. Employers find it difficult to retain employees of the digitally native generations because the employees want to be recognized for small achievements. However, these recognitions need not be monetarily significant.
Recognition can be passed through mobile apps or social media platforms to ensure employee satisfaction. The current workforce also tends to find mismatches between what was promised by the employer during recruitment and the actual conditions. It eventually leads to them regretting taking up the job, and they quit, leading to greater attrition rates.
The maritime industry is witnessing a gradual increase in the automation of jobs, starting from mundane tasks to fully automated ships. The increasing use of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) in the maritime industry presents opportunities and challenges for the workforce.
Multiple companies are involved in the development of automation in the maritime industry, including Rolls Royce, Kongsberg, and a non-profit, ProMare. International companies like Wartsilla from Finland, DNL GL from Norway, and ABB from Switzerland are also working on developing automation technologies for the shipping industry.
Automation is changing the nature of jobs in the maritime sector, and employers often find employees resistant to changes. There’s also an increase in the industry’s remote and hybrid working arrangements, improving access to candidates and workforce diversity.
Experts believe that the industry needs smarter people to operate the new technology. However, instead of a wholesale transformation of the shipping industry, automation would most likely impact work in ports and harbors. Even there, the technology will most likely augment the human workforce instead of taking over completely. Automation will also likely improve the working environment by securing jobs, enhancing safety, and reducing burnout.
Now that we’ve discussed the challenges, let’s discuss what employers and recruiters can do to mitigate them.
Tips to Recruit Maritime Employees
With the maritime industry constantly growing, employers must find innovative ways to recruit and retain employees. In June 2023, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) collaborated with its network of members to launch a video titled ‘An Adventurous Spirit.’
The video showcased first-hand testimonials from current members of the maritime workforce, emphasizing the perks and challenges of working in a maritime job. ICS estimates that the global merchant fleet will require about 90,000 STCW-certified officers by 2026, and the video was created to attract more candidates to the industry.
Unfortunately, recent reports show a tremendous increase in illegal and unethical operations connected to recruitment in the maritime industry. An Institute for Human Rights and Business and Sustainable Shipping Initiative presented a survey of about 5000 maritime employees from September 2022 to February 2023. The report stated that almost 40% of the surveyed employees of the industry had experienced illegal or unethical violations of international standards of working rights.
These violations occurred during recruitment and while the employees were working at sea. A report by Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) and The Mission to Seafarers (MtS), a maritime welfare charity, stated that maritime candidates had paid varied sums up to US$7,500 as illegal recruitment fees, with the average being US$1,872.
These reports show that there are suitable candidates looking for jobs in the maritime industry, but something hinders the entire process’s functioning. That’s why it’s necessary to take the right steps to achieve the recruitment targets of the shipping industry.
Increase Online Recruitment
Maritime employers can often limit themselves to traditional recruiting methods via a job board. However, almost every candidate would visit the company website to gather information about the employer. Maritime companies should maintain a professional website with up-to-date information to attract potential candidates. The website can also feature a recruitment form to attract more applications.
Maritime employers should always evaluate their website and identify areas that might dissuade a potential employee from applying. The content should be professional and authoritative but not sound cold and unfriendly. Also, it is not enough to just post titles of the jobs available. Employers should also furnish adequate job descriptions and highlight the responsibilities and benefits of the job.
Online recruitment can also be done through third-party websites or mobile apps like Martide. Such platforms offer shipping companies access to a global talent pool of qualified maritime workers seeking employment. Some apps and websites allow recruiters to build a streamlined process to keep track of a candidate’s progress through the recruitment process.
Contact Maritime Education Institutes
Maritime employers often need employees with formal maritime education. So it would be a good idea to approach students who have just come out of training for recruitment. Employers may not be able to contact the students directly, but they can always connect with Maritime training academies and institutions to send promising students their way.
It would be prudent to send current employees to conferences in educational institutes to meet potential candidates for entry-level job openings. Networking is a great way to make new contacts with students who might be looking for job opportunities soon. Educational institutes are also a great avenue to connect with alumni and look for candidates suitable for high-ranking positions like officers or captains.
Utilize Social Media
In the current age, employers should also consider using social media platforms like LinkedIn, Instagram, and X (formerly Twitter) to attract more candidates. According to Martide, social media is one of the best places to look for specialists and passive talents for Maritime recruitment.
Many employers and recruitment agencies post and promote job openings on LinkedIn or X (Twitter). LinkedIn can be especially useful to search for candidates and send private messages to potential seafarers. However, it would be best not to be limited to one social media platform because it’s more professional than the others.
To conclude, maritime recruitment is facing acute challenges due to the transformation of the work environment and the shift in the work mentality of the emerging workforce. Also, additional challenges, such as attrition and illegal recruitment methods, make it difficult to find the right candidates.
However, with the right steps, shipping companies can gain access to a global pool of candidates looking for employment in the maritime industry. Online resources, social media, and networking through maritime institutes can help recruiters find applicants who are qualified and actively seeking employment in the shipping industry.