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Attracting the next generation to shipping

Part of the ‘Thoughts from a Female MD’ series

I was recently asked to attend the British Ports Association’s HR and Employment Network to talk on gender diversity, the Gender Pay Gap, and the key differences between generations X, Y & Z. As a Recruitment Managing Director within maritime, these are salient issues, and it is good to see a group of HR professionals so keen to discuss them.

I’m a champion for attracting women into the maritime industry (I’m Membership Secretary for WISTA, the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association, and often speak at events on the subject), and also attracting young people into the sector. I’m an ambassador for Inspiring the Future, going into schools and colleges and showing young people that there’s a whole career out there in shipping! It’s important for me to show young people, particularly young girls, that there are great, interesting, challenging career options that lead all the way to the boardroom.

Millennials, born in the 80s and 90s, get a bad press as the ‘Snowflake’ generation, but what do we know of them? They’re liberal, compassionate, confident, and comfortable with social media – all pretty good qualities when it comes to a career I’d say, particularly when I’m looking for new hires. So how do we attract them towards shipping especially when a whole generation – the Baby Boomers – prepares to leave it? I think it boils down to 3 key points.

The first issue is education. Just 1 in 5 youngsters are given any information at school about maritime careers. When you tell people that 90% of what they own came by ship, it’s a mind-blowing statistic (it’s an industry classic for a reason!) Shipping’s visibility is poor in schools, and that needs to change. It is difficult to get motivated to speak to schoolchildren, when you know they are not going to be in the workplace for another 10 years! Which is why supporting organisations such as SeaVision is key; they can help do the job for us, with the right connections.

Secondly, maritime is massively male-dominated. I’ve spoken before about often being the only woman around the boardroom table, and only 7% of women in maritime interviewed by Spinnaker were in senior or director level roles, but it’s just the same from cadetships upwards. 2% of seafarers are female. A tiny 6% of those are in cargo shipping. And in a survey from Spinnaker’s HR Consulting division, it was revealed that in maritime there’s almost a 40% discrepancy between male and female pay. The pay gap is very real, and it’s time to change things. We’re not going to attract women into the sector if they’re not only a minority, but they’re paid less than their male counterparts. It needs to be an appealing career.

Finally, we need to look to the industry to shake up what are seen as old-fashioned issues. Shipping is finally catching up with social media which seemed a long time coming. But did you know that 64% of ships don’t have internet connections for seafarers’ personal use? In an age of FaceTime, WhatsApp, Snapchat and Instagram, decent wifi on board is going to be essential for the future millennial seafaring workforce. They’re notoriously the most tech-savvy generation, so why isn’t shipping catching up with that? It might not sound like a deal-breaker, but if you can get free wifi when grabbing a coffee in Starbucks, why can’t you when you’re working for months on a ship?

This just scratches the surface of the work that needs to be done to get a new generation excited by the prospect of working in shipping, but hopefully in the coming years, with a lot of hard work and a focus on ‘good PR’ for the industry, there will be a wealth of talent waiting in the wings, ready to board ships and get to work on the ever-fascinating maritime career ladder. I guess we’ll just have to watch this space…

Teresa Peacock, Managing Director, Recruitment, Spinnaker Global

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