You Snooze, You Lose

People in a workplace feedback meeting

I sat down this week with my colleagues in the senior recruitment leadership team at Spinnaker to discuss the state of the maritime recruitment market.

It should come as no surprise that it’s not business as usual.  Whereas there is usually a trend, whether it’s up or down, the only consistent thing about the market for the last two years is that it is very inconsistent.  “One day it’s up, the next it’s down,” according to Spinnaker Director David Tubb. “It changes with the wind.”  However, David agrees with Spinnaker’s MD of Executive Search Teresa Peacock that “people seem to be more optimistic in terms of their recruitment plans at the moment; there’s a sense that clients are positioning themselves for a better year in that respect. Old jobs that were on hold are crawling out of the woodwork and there is a renewed interest to see CVs and candidates for those jobs.”  

Overall recruitment volume is up at the moment.  Director of commercial recruitment, Matt Cornelius, says the market is “really competitive” for operations and chartering staff, particularly in dry bulk and that a number of companies have given “solid” pay rises and bonuses recently, which naturally makes it more difficult for their competitors to tempt staff away.

There is a palpable supply-side shortfall. A lot of people have left the workplace thanks to covid – the consequences of people deciding to make lifestyle changes and to take early retirement cannot be overstated. Only a small amount of Spinnaker’s recruitment is for UK employers, but the situation there is exacerbated by Brexit and the loss of a significant potential workforce. Put together, these factors mean that shipping is facing even tougher competition than usual from other sectors that are facing the same supply problems.

Across industry, inexperienced and unskilled people have choice in a way that we’ve never seen before. The market for support staff, for graduates and second-jobbers is red hot. As a group, these people will never before have felt so wanted.  It’s making recruitment very difficult for employers who are having to pay inflated salaries for people with little or no experience and who, on paper, might previously have been their second choice.  At the same time, the recruitment process is frustrating to say the least, with no-shows and poor communication from candidates becoming run of the mill.  We have certainly been on the receiving end of this ourselves in our search for new junior members of the Spinnaker team.

But it is what it is. We can speculate about how sustainable this situation is and whether we’re setting up the younger generation for unrealistic expectations, but that doesn’t change the here and now. If you need staff, you have to fish in the same pond as everyone else and cope with the same market conditions.

Employers are in an impossible position.  Inflation is at levels not seen for decades, interest rates are rising, there is a war in Europe, we’re just emerging from covid and understandably they (we) are keen to keep control of costs while fighting to retain their staff and to hire new staff in a tight market.

The reality check is this: If you do have to hire at the moment, then it’s crucial to understand the current market and to get the salary budget right at the outset, or face a long and frustrating process.  If you don’t have to hire and can wait things out to see if the market settles down, then that is an option worth considering.

David Tubb again: “Candidates can pick and choose at the moment, whether that’s new entrants, accounts staff, lawyers or technical superintendents. I know of accounts staff getting for or five headhunting calls and social media messages a day. You have to move fast – you snooze, you lose. Some get this and others are completely blind to it.  There is no point making optimistic job offers at the moment by which I mean below candidates’ current salary levels or below clear indications of what the candidates are looking for.”  

Of course, there will always be a natural tendency to think a recruitment consultant who gets paid a percentage of salary has a vested interest in talking the market up.  The truth though is that recruiters – other [partly] than executive search consultants – only get paid if they make placements. Their motivation is to fill the job.  If the candidate turns an offer down due to salary, it is just as likely in today’s marketplace that both the client and the recruiter lose out. “Our interests are aligned therefore,” says Matt Cornelius. “I’ve had to learn to be unequivocal in what I say to clients, otherwise I’ll just be wasting their time and mine and that’s no good for anyone.”

Steve Cox, Spinnaker’s CEO notes the difficulty for employers: “I don’t think it’s arrogance that drives employers to try their luck despite the advice they’re being given. If you are looking for one new hire in a team of ten, you have a real problem if you break existing pay scales for that one new person. At the same time, competitors are sniffing around as they too are struggling to recruit. So, what we’re seeing is quite a lot of offers being turned down due to existing employers making defensive counter-offers and competing new employers offering more money. In the current economic climate, it’s even easier than usual to understand why candidates are accepting the higher offers.”

That all being said, it’s not 100% about the money. Covid has shifted the balance of power when it comes to employee demands to work from home.  It’s quite normal in the current market for candidate interest in roles to be subject to some guarantee of hybrid working. Two days a week from home is probably the most common request.

But, while there is much more focus on company culture nowadays, we don’t see too much of that at the recruitment stage – that tends to come when candidates are on the inside – the exceptions being vacancies with companies known to have high staff turnover or long-hours cultures.

When it comes to cross-border recruitment, there has also been a shift, this time in employer willingness to hire overseas workers based from home, but a number of assignments we have been involved in have not come to fruition due to the practicalities and legalities: where is the employment contract legally situated, which tax laws apply, must a local subsidiary company by set up to employ the new hire, can they not work as self-employed…and so on?  As with salaries, we have learned from experience that it’s important to explain to employers what’s involved before they get too far down the line with someone without thinking all of this through.

So, the market is odd, it’s often frustrating, but it’s buoyant …this week that is!

It’s also a candidate’s market and that means that now is a good time for candidates with a genuine reason for wanting to change jobs to make their move – lack of promotion opportunity, a desire for different experience, personality clashes and so on are the usual push-factors and short-term salary increases don’t tend to solve those problems for long so candidates motivated by this sort of thing are so much less likely to accept a counter-offer.

Phil Parry, Spinnaker

Meet the Sponsors

company logos

A big thank you to the sponsors and supporters at this year’s Spinnaker Maritime People & Culture Conference.

We are delighted to have Ocean Technologies Group sponsoring the lanyards at the event and these will be available for all delegates on the day.

Clyde & Co will be returning for the fifth year as sponsors of the lunch break on both days.

You will also find Clyde & Co in our exhibition area alongside CleverPoint Marine, Novikontas Maritime College, Omnium Employee Benefits, Marine Society and Seably.

Read on to find out more about our sponsors and exhibitors.

CleverPoint Marine is a tech-enabled company, pioneering new generation neurotechnology in virtual reality to man­age employee performance and wellbeing. Our solution is an innovative device, developed and adapted for the mar­itime industry as a psychometric assessment and training tool, for supporting the cognitive and psycho-physiological abilities of an employee.

Novikontas Maritime College is a world-class Maritime and Offshore Training and Education institution. Our ex­perienced maritime industry staff delivers a broad range of courses and professional education programs for shore-based and onboard positions.

Clyde & Co’s employment team are recognised leaders in the delivery of HR legal services. Our experienced practic­es in the UK, the Middle East and across Asia-Pacific have a long track record of advising both local and internation­al businesses on employment issues, employee benefits, pensions, immigration, partnership, and trade union issues. From hiring, to managing change programmes, and resolv­ing disputes, the combination of our experienced and sizea­ble international team and network of international offices means that we provide clients with relevant and tailored employment advice when and where it is needed.

Ocean Technologies Group provides maritime professionals with digital learning, assessment, maritime HR and fleet management solutions. It is built on the world recognised e-learning providers Seagull Maritime and Videotel and has been further strengthened by the COEX, Compas, Marlins, MTS and Tero Marine brands. Dedicated to realising the potential of every seafarer and every ship, Ocean Technologies Group help make the industry safer, stronger and able to excel.

The Marine Society & Sea Cadets aim to be the first in learning and profes­sional development for the maritime community and do this through their many partnerships. These enable them to offer tailored learning programmes that support learning and professional development at all levels, right through to postgraduate. They are also able to deliver distance-learn­ing programmes that are perfect for those who are unable to learn through the more traditional methods. Meanwhile their crew libraries and bookshop support seafarers through their learning and also offer a welcome escape from the pressures of life at sea.

Omnium are an independent benefits business and offer advice to clients of all sizes. They provide a full range of employee benefits and have over fifty years’ experience in the field. Their primary aim is to inform, educate and advise employers and employees on the real value of the benefits their organisation offers. They offer unbiased, unrestricted and wholly independent financial advice.

Seably was founded together with the Swedish Shipping Association in 2017 out of strong demand from the shipping cluster for better ways for seafarers to conduct their mandatory training.

They firmly believe that training is an essential component of a healthy and safe maritime industry. They believe that training should be a collaborative and diverse process with many contributors – training should be created by the many, not by the few.

You can meet our sponsors and exhibitors at the Spinnaker Maritime People & Culture Conference on the 26th & 27th May

What does agile really mean and how should the shipping and maritime industry approach it? A Q&A with K D Adamson

maritime conference

Ahead of the 2022 Spinnaker Maritime People & Culture Conference we sat down with our keynote and special guest, shipping’s most famous futurist, K D Adamson.

One of the most sought-after futurist speakers globally K D Adamson’s keynotes have been likened to a TED talk on steroids.

With a stellar client list K D has advised organisations in multiple industries from the largest companies to start-ups, and is expert in ESG, agility, leadership, technology, digital and organisational transformation, and the Blue, Green and Circular Economies.

As the world’s foremost maritime futurist her client list spans the ocean industries, and she is renowned for combining visionary thinking, foresight and insight with sharp, straight-talking commercial and business acumen & expertise.  

As futurist-in-residence at Futurenautics she works with ship owners, operators & managers, maritime suppliers, policymakers, regulators, technology companies, charities, class, NGOs, banks, VC, port and logistics groups.

In the third part of our conversation, we asked her to explain what agile really means, and how the shipping and maritime industry should approach it.

K D Adamson: For a lot of people agile at the moment is shorthand for flexible working, and of course the pandemic has focussed everyone on how you keep an organisation going which has traditionally depended on in-person interaction, when you can no longer have that physical interaction.

But agile is actually far deeper than that. It originally came out of software development, the agile manifesto which says that

We value individuals and interactions over processes and tools,
We value working software over comprehensive documentation,
We value customer collaboration over contract negotiation and
We value responding to change over following a plan

So this is about fundamentally changing not where we work, but the way that we work. Of course the agile manifesto was just based around software development, but enterprise agility, business agility is really about adaptability. Agility means creating the environment, capability and culture that motivates people and organisations to continuously and rapidly respond to challenges and opportunities by working, thinking, innovating and operating in agile ways. It’s about rewiring organisations and mindsets and ultimately wider value chains and ecosystems.

A truly agile organisation can seamlessly redirect its people, its budgets and its priorities towards value-creating opportunities, and respond to dynamic enterprise risk. At the heart of this are small, cross-functional, autonomous teams with the power and the authority to solve problems, usually customer-focussed ones. These teams rely on trust-based relationships rather than traditional hierarchy, which of course by extension throws up some big changes in the way that we lead and manage companies too.

Agile organisations have to be purpose-led, because when you get rid of hierarchy, you need strong cultural alignment to replace it. And that is dependent upon a core organisational vision and purpose, which is clearly communicated and continually reinforced, so that it provides a shared language across the organisation.

So for any shipping and maritime company exploring agile I would encourage them to start there. To find and articulate that North Star purpose which will enable you to move from the business from a command and control hierarchy, to a convene and catalyse network which allows you to adapt really quickly to changing conditions.

You can watch the video to accompany this interview with K D Adamson by following this link

The conference takes place on Thursday 26th & Friday 27th May in the City of London, so follow this link now to view the full agenda and book tickets.