Training For the Leap from Ship to ShoreOctober 18, 2016 2:33 pm
Seafarers making the transition from sea to land-based positions is a key shipping industry issue. There are major benefits when skills acquired onboard ships shift into the shorebased workplace. Ensuring seafarers are ready to make the leap ashore is key, so what can be done to sharpen skills and open people to new prospects?
MIND THE SKILLS GAP
Whether onboard ships or in offices ashore, the shipping industry needs the intelligence, insight and practical know how of seafarers. Ensuring people with vast amounts of maritime experience are informed, motivated and ready to make the move ashore is vital.
Recently a group of leading UK maritime organisations commissioned research into the requirements of employers to identify educational and skills gaps. The report found that mariners were expected to be better prepared for working ashore. Download the full report here https://goo.gl/MmkpvS
There were cultural issues identified, as adjusting from “command and control” working practices at sea to more collaborative management styles ashore were found to be extremely challenging. They also found that some seafarers struggled with the profound shift in “culture, lifestyle and remuneration”.
The report stated that for the process of shifting ashore to be made easier, it needs to be better explained, more straightforward and understandable. It also stressed that seafarers need to be better informed of opportunities and how to pursue them.
SHIFTING TO SHORE
In another report, a recruitment company asked 2,000 maritime industry professionals, including seafarers, about their careers and the perceived paths available. While the majority of seafarers are likely to remain at sea, the rest are willing and eager to make a change.
Seafarers were especially keen to follow career paths which they may have already come across, such as operations manager, surveyor and fleet manager, as opposed to careers in insurance or law. Familiarity breeds contentment when it comes to careers it seems and that means that much of the technical training is valid and important.
The research also revealed how valued ex-seafarers are. The report claimed that 92% of shoreside respondents thought it “quite important” to have ex-seafarers in the office, while 35% considered it “vital”.
Seafarers therefore need to know they can move ashore and settle into a career path which values their skills, knowledge and experience. Preparation is key, and the role of continuing professional development (CPD) becomes ever more pivotal.
THE HOLISTIC APPROACH
For us at Videotel, this means a natural and obvious focus on maritime training and education. With knowledge, experience, skills and qualifications, it is far easier for seafarers to move into new roles where they will be comfortable, happy and can excel.
It is vital therefore to develop a holistic, joined-up approach to maritime careers. This will help to ensure that seagoing experience enters the working gene pool, bringing knowledge and skills which make staff more relevant, vibrant and hard wired to the realities of ships and business.
However, as the move from working at sea to shore employment is such a big leap, there needs to be a new emphasis on ensuring skills used at sea can be translated into the office environment. Training delivered at sea or as part of a pre-shore career is becoming increasingly influential and valuable.
As efforts to generate a more formal career path spanning both ship and shore develop, there is an increasing focus on transferring and translating different experiences and qualifications into businesses and situations ashore.
HARD WORK, SOFT SKILLS
There are challenges – but well trained, practically-minded seafarers are well set to overcome them. One issue is that management structures are rigidly defined onboard ship and the competency needs are explicitly detailed. This certainty is not always in place ashore.
It can sometimes be harder to readily see where people “fit”. Indeed, in shipping company offices, staff and future recruits are assessed not just on time spent in a role – as is the tendency at sea, but on wider business skills and a host of competencies such as how they relate and communicate with others. So there needs to be a focus on preparation for the challenges ahead.
This can come as something of a culture shock for seafarers. Stripped of the certainties and reassurance of rank and away from a clear defined structure, it can sometimes prove difficult to immediately adapt and to flourish. But it does not have to be this way.
There is a danger of a “soft skills” gap between those from a seagoing background and those working ashore. This does not need to be a problem though, it is just a challenge which needs to be managed and overcome.
Measuring a gap in soft skills is no easy thing, but it is a part of the overall career path that needs to be addressed by seafarers. There are skills which need to be gained and improved – so training is key.
In the most progressive companies, an employee’s ability to communicate is vital. Being able to present information clearly and openly and to listen and respond empathetically, while being able to influence others and motivate them, these are skills that seafarers have – but are perhaps sometimes overlooked.
Ashore unlike at sea, business aims can be less well defined. Whereas avoiding collisions and arriving safely on-time with the cargo intact is a very simple premise, office life is often less clear cut. So being able to manage teams, delegate and to appraise situations are essential skills.
There can also be a more strategic culture ashore and it can take some getting used to. Whereas seafarers are trained to deal with operational situations in a tactical manner, when they move ashore there can be much to be gain from a more diplomatic, strategic and political appreciation of the business. This can be a tough transition, but having soft skills can make a difference.
There are a number of hard facts about soft skills, which go over and above experience and competency alone. So for seafarers it is vital that time is spent training and improving soft skills, an investment which will lead to enhanced career progression over time.
Soft skills help professionals advance their careers and they bring value to the organisation and clients. They also bring improved performance which, in turn, leads to more opportunity, responsibility and success. There is a virtuous upward spiral for those who invest the time and effort to focus on such skills.
For seafarers, though, it can be a little perplexing as to why soft skills are so important. Aren’t years at sea and reams of certificates enough? Don’t months managing multinational crews count for anything? What about the ability to avoid collisions, or to know how to navigate or fix complex equipment? They count for a lot – but are not the whole picture.
For both employers and employees alike, a balancing act is needed. Businesses expect their people to have all the skills necessary, but there needs to be an appreciation of just what seafarers bring to the mix and a willingness to support and invest to bridge any gaps. While for seafarers moving ashore, they need to be alive to their own skills and willing to ensure they are continuing their own professional development. Working together the answers are clear and, hopefully, seafarers can feel the advantages of a more defined career structure – wherever that may be.