Securing that tricky first job at sea

6 February 2019

In recent years, Nautilus has often heard from newly-qualified members about their difficulties in securing their first job as a junior officer. It's a thorny problem, but KELSEY CONNOLLY of Faststream Recruitment hopes to help applicants and employers alike by providing a specialist insight into the employment market…

As a global maritime recruitment business, we are contacted regularly by newly-qualified officers seeking their first job at sea. This can be a challenging time for these candidates when there is predominantly a higher demand for more experienced officers.

Ship owners and managers do not find it challenging to source candidates for their cadet schemes and offer sponsorship to many EU/UK nationals as officer cadets to work in the various shipping sectors of the Merchant Navy. The 'best in class' cadets will often secure employment with their sponsor, which leaves little demand for other newly-qualified officers post-cadetship.

For newly-qualified cadets, finding their first contract of employment is influenced by the type of vessel they secure their cadetship on. This can be a significant life choice for a cadet and probably not one they realise that will impact them so heavily in their future job prospects.

If a cadet wants to work onboard an LNG vessel but acquired their sea time in their cadetship by sailing on a cruise liner, then they will find it tough to secure employment on an LNG ship due to the various endorsement and additional qualifications needed to sail with this cargo. Whilst some skills are transferable in the maritime sector, others require sea time onboard certain vessel types, and this can be restrictive to transitioning from one vessel type to another.

Try to get experience on different vessel types during your cadetship, because this will influence your eligibility for certain future jobs

This highlights the importance of researching the various shipping sectors prior to applying for a cadetship. For instance, rotations in the offshore sector are often a few weeks, whereas on a cruise liner it could be as long as six months. Other factors such as onboard facilities, cabin arrangements and remuneration packages could play a big part in the decision-making process for a junior officer.

One of the markets where Faststream is seeing an accelerated demand for qualified and experienced seafarers is the cruise sector. Many leading cruise companies are foreseeing a future skills gap in their workforce due to the acceleration of cruiseship builds (123 new vessels planned in the run-up to 2027) and are investing heavily in more cadetship schemes to fill their lower ranked positions and ensure they plug this gap for future years. This can only mean good things for those interested in a career as a seafarer, with potentially more cruise cadetships on the horizon.

Ship owners and managers outside of the cruise market are heavily reliant on existing talent in the marketplace. Poaching candidates from competitors is commonplace. This is a real-life case of 'robbing Peter to pay Paul' and is not a sustainable strategy in the long term for the ship owner/manager or the supply of candidates in the seafaring community.

Investing in junior talent is imperative for the future sustainability of the shipping community, and cadetships have an important role to play in ensuring the future demand for seafarers are met.

The shipping industry is a business and thus always looking for cost efficiencies. Many shipping companies we work with are focused on adding value to remuneration packages. We are seeing an increased trend in offering additional benefits like better rotations (shorter and fairer), leisure facilities onboard, free wifi, and the ability to have family onboard. Faststream has found that these all feature as the most desired benefits that candidates have requested in 2018.

Some shipping companies are looking at alternative nationalities for cost efficiencies to attract candidates to their roles. Businesses have had to change their way of recruiting; they can no longer be dependent on sourcing single nationalities and need to open their requirements to a global workforce. As the traditional labour supply countries become more developed, we expect to see a notable decrease in people moving into seafarer careers when other opportunities are increasing, especially IT and telecommunication jobs ashore.

In a market of ageing experienced seafarers, juniors are seeking to come ashore earlier than previously seen in the marketplace. Hiring managers are well aware of the growing skills gap between the juniors and newly qualified cadets. However, a new generation (generation Z) are our future seafarers and they are bringing different needs from the seafarers from the past.

An article by Martin Bennell, MD of Faststream Recruitment EMEA and Americas – The Future competitive landscape of hiring seafarers – examined the future trends of generation Z and the demands they will be making of their employers in what we predict to be a 'war for talent'.

Seafarers and potential candidates who were born from the mid-90s onwards are making bigger demands of their potential employers. In our recent survey of cadets at Warsash Maritime Academy, an important issue for future seafarers was for competitive pay in the market, ensuring the attractiveness of an industry that they are focused on entering.

Improved employee benefits are going to be a must for this generation, who expect paid sick leave, family health insurance, and maternity and paternity leave as a given. They also want access to improved home comforts – including onboard gym and access to fast and reliable wi-fi . All items that would be commonplace outside the seafaring community; our industry has got to improve to mimic other industries before this generation turns its back on it for good. This generation wants to know what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.