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Project Ulysses – horses for courses 2

Following on from the first half of Phil Parry's speech on Project Ulysses, we catch up on seafarar and leadership management training:

"The Ulysses report identified a lack of commercial skills and the need for better preparation as two of the most important issues. We cannot expect seafarers to be commercial when we focus their training purely on the technical aspects of their jobs and on compliance.

British seafarers benefit from the historical reputation of Britain’s strength as a maritime nation and as the leading maritime legal, financial and insurance service centre. We can help British seafarers to stand out by equipping them with the very things that the industry at large says it fails to give to seafarers in general.

The survey identified commercial, budgeting and communication skills as the elements of management and leadership that are lacking. I'm not so sure that this is what we see in practice. Our recruitment clients and members of the Maritime HR Association tell us that communication AND general management are the key issues they struggle with.

Let me turn briefly to the issue of responsibility. Whose responsibility is it to better prepare British seafarers? Since the 1970s very few seafarers are permanently employed. They don't have AN employer and of those that do only a lucky few would benefit from investment in the skills and knowledge they will need ashore. So it is then that the seafarer has to take responsibility for his or her own future. And perhaps we as a group can help. Realistically though, it's about effort and funding. Enthusiasm at events like this and in the pub is always high. The reality of the day job and of commercial pressures dampens that enthusiasm. I am familiar first hand with the difficulties of turning rhetoric into cash and action.

I was talking about seafarers having to take responsibility for their own preparation. The seafarer lives in a quasi militaristic hierarchical environment where leadership is command and control in nature. That style does not transfer well ashore. My very strong opinion therefore is that seafarers need assistance with:

Self-awareness – understanding oneself and how one’s personality and style of communication impacts on others and how one is perceived. This is relevant at sea and ashore. I could talk for hours in this topic alone.

Knowledge acquisition – legal, commercial, insurance, budgeting, ship management …and so on.
An understanding of what the variety of jobs in the industry entail and what personal attributes, strengths and knowledge are required to best prepare for those jobs.

There is not a one-size fits-all toolkit, although I would add to the list above that quite possibly THE most useful attribute is clarity of expression – the ability to articulate oneself verbally and in writing.

As to whether or not a degree is necessary and whether officers should gain command or chief engineer experience before coming ashore, as I say, one size does not fit all. I met some of the silliest people I know at university and at law school and some of the very best and able people I know have never been anywhere near tertiary education.

Drill down and you will often find that the requirement for a degree is often as much about proof of ability to research and to write as anything else. The requirement for command or chief engineer experience is often about perceived credibility than a particular need for knowledge and experience. There are jobs for which it is crucial of course. If there is a need for business knowledge, I would just as readily recommend the examinations of the ICS. I advised a second officer very recently that I thought he should attempt to come ashore now given his career ambitions. I have advised many others to stay put or attempt to switch vessel types.

It’s also important to remember in this initiative that it’s “horses for courses” – different people are suited to different things."

– Phil Parry, Chairman, Spinnaker Global.

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