We’re being asked by our maritime clients for advice on the fact it’s a candidate’s market right now. When the pandemic hit, it was a different story. People were being laid off, and companies weren’t hiring. The market was employer-led, and high numbers of candidates were applying for a small number of jobs. This continued for many months of this unsettled time, but as many countries progress with vaccination programmes and the easing of covid restrictions, market sentiment is more optimistic and people are hiring again.
What does this mean for maritime recruitment? Well, at the time of writing, the number of vacancies is now outweighing the number of candidates on the market. And in turn, this means that the market is very competitive. Companies are battling to get the best of the best. Candidates are driving the market and by being clearer in their demands can appear less flexible. With those who are passively considering opportunities, there needs to be an absolute clear and concrete reason and an advantage to them to move. If the package and conditions are not in complete alignment, they will find someone else who can offer it, or will stay where they are for the security.
The recruitment impact
“This is 100% a candidate-driven market at the moment,” confirms Matthew Cornelius, Director of Commercial Recruitment for Spinnaker. “Especially in operations. Good operators and charterers have several companies all wanting them. But candidates are reluctant to move unless it’s worth it for them. Sideways moves aren’t always attractive when you’re in a stable job during an unstable time.
“The commercial market is particularly affected by this. I’m hearing that operators are being poached from all over the industry.”
This is echoed in the technical recruitment department at Spinnaker, headed by Director, David Tubb. “90% of passive candidates are still willing to have a conversation. However, this discussion of upfront information comes much earlier in the process for some to even consider taking the next steps forward and getting someone interested in a position can take a lot more work than it did before. There is still a real fear around security and making the right decision. There have been more instances of candidates either staying put, being counter offered, or having more than one option on the table at a time.”
It’s not all about money: some candidates are more willing to look at less responsibility and less salary for a more comfortable balanced life and other benefits beyond the numbers. This is confirmed by Spinnaker consultant Hayley Menere. “In the legal and insurance sector, it’s often a candidate-led market. If you’re a 3/4 PQE UK-qualified Solicitor, you have the pick of the law firms. But we’re seeing more lawyers looking to move out of private practice. It’s a different dynamic, with less pressure, so we’ve definitely noticed an uptick in those seeking in-house roles.”
The effect on salaries
At Spinnaker, we provide salary benchmarking in maritime. Top shipping companies participate each year in both our shore-based and seagoing salary surveys, so we can give reliable salary data and promote best practice in the industry. Because this candidate-driven market affects salaries, our benchmarking team predict this will show itself in next year’s surveys.
“Our reports showed very little change to shore-based salaries in 2020, the result of an unsurprisingly cautious approach to pay increases during such uncertainty,” says Sarah Hutley of Spinnaker’s benchmarking team. “However, in 2021 I think we are seeing a growing desire within companies to reward and retain staff who have worked hard throughout the pandemic. This, along with the need to potentially pay more to attract new recruits, is likely to drive up the market salary ranges and potentially create some internal inequity which could take some years to address.”
Matthew Cornelius has noticed this effect in the recruitment team too. “Clients are asking me constantly if they’re underpaying because salaries have become so inflated. I can understand it: if you urgently need an operator, you’re willing to pay extra to secure the hire. However, I am advising my clients to hold fire and approach with caution, because hiring someone at such an inflated salary won’t be a good thing a year or two down the line when things have settled.”
Our advice to clients
We advise clients to be mindful of their ability to retain staff at such high rates – and think about the impact on existing staff salaries and inequities. We promote the use of annual pay reviews, including equal pay audits and gender pay analysis, which will identify any areas of immediate concern.
When it comes to recruitment, at Spinnaker we use a combination of advertising, email marketing, and direct approach. Don’t just rely on a job ad alone. While advertising is a great way to reach candidates, you’re missing out on people who aren’t actively looking.
“I always remember placing a candidate,” recalls David Tubb, “and the client said to me: ‘He never would have found us, and we never would have found him.’ – that’s what we do as recruiters, we pick up the phone, we directly source, we take a chance on those who aren’t out proactively job seeking. Most of our placements come from having the right conversation with the right person at the right time.”