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

The impact of Brexit on British ports


Do you work in ports? Do you use British ports? Do you have a view of the impact of Brexit?

Spinnaker Chairman Phil Parry is a maritime business and law graduate, from (ahem) a few years ago, of the Maritime Department at Plymouth University and still remains involved in the alumni association and in visiting and lecturing there.  So, we’re keen to help out where we can.

Plymouth’s Dr Stavros Karamperidis is conducting some research on the impact of Brexit on British ports. If you work in ports, are a port user or other stakeholder, can you please spare a few minutes to respond to the research survey or send the link to your colleagues …or both! It’s just 9 questions and your input would contribute to the work enormously. 

Stavros can be contacted by email at [email protected] and the questionnaire can be found here:

Survey: Leadership in shipbroking

charles deluvio

Spinnaker are delighted to publicise a survey on Leadership in Shipbroking being conducted by researchers at Bayes Business School at City, formerly known as Cass Business School at the University of London. As most of our regular readers will know, Spinnaker has been advocating the benefits of investing in leadership in maritime for many years and offers maritime leadership development programmes. Our next open programme starts in December and is fully booked but do register your interest for Spring 2022 by contacting Helen McCaughran on 01702 481643 or by email.

Improving the industry for future shipbrokers

Is leadership in shipbroking an oxymoron or are 21st century shipbrokers investing in developing the leadership potential of their people?  Are shipbrokers simply promoting their biggest billers into management roles only to find that their talent doesn’t extend to leadership? The survey aims to find out, to understand attitudes and perspectives, and how the industry can be improved for future generations of shipbrokers, analysts and operators.

All shipbrokers, from trainees to directors and company owners are invited to take 10 minutes to answer the questions in this survey and so help contribute to this unique piece of research on the industry. You can do so by clicking here: 

DISCLAIMER: Spinnaker are not involved in the conduct of this survey. We are helping to publicise and distribute the survey to our network of contacts and will not have access to any of the data submitted by survey participants. Responses will be anonymous and confidential and all data will be held on a secure system independent of Spinnaker and maintained by Bayes Business School.

IN MORE FORMAL TERMS:  A research team at Bayes Business School (formerly Cass) at City, University of London, led by Dr Amanda Goodall (Associate Professor in Leadership) is conducting new research to better understand the link between leadership, people management, strategic decision-making, diversity and execution in the shipbroking industry.

The maritime market – taking a leap of faith

maritime lead of faith

Spinnaker launched the first ever shore-based shipping recruitment agency in 1997 and we’ve seen highs and lows – the boom and bust of the 2008-2009 crash, and of course the still-present effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the global workforce – and as we approach the final months of 2021, we take a look at market sentiment. 

Succession planning and career reassessment 

There seems to be a lot of succession planning happening as executives are approaching retirement age, or are just wanting to step back,” says Teresa Peacock, Managing Director of Spinnaker’s Executive Search division. “Judging by what I’m hearing through our network, I think this is in part due to lifestyle changes because of covid. People are reassessing. As a result, our team are picking up new senior-level roles at a high rate for this time of year.” 

A leap of faith? 

We were instructed on a number of high-profile board level searches during the first six months of the pandemic, only to experience a quiet period from late 2020 until early summer this year. “The search market seems to have exploded again since then and we are enjoying a bit of a purple patch at the moment,” says Spinnaker Chairman Phil Parry. “There seems to be a general air that it’s time to get on with things.  A couple of clients who have been biding their time have now pulled the trigger on their plans to recruit 30 and 10 people each, quite simply saying that they can’t wait any longer. It’s a strange time out there. I think people have concluded that they can’t tell what’s coming, so are looking past macro indicators at the moment and taking a leap of faith.” 

Spinnaker’s Executive Search team are hiring for several senior roles currently including: 

  • General Counsel, UK 
  • Chief Underwriting Officer, London 
  • Chief People Officer, Asia Pacific 
  • Technical Director, Middle East 
  • Senior Chartering Manager (Dry Bulk), Middle East 
  • Non-Executive Director, USA 
  • Procurement Director, Middle East 
  • Port Director, Middle East  

The offshore landscape is shifting 

For the offshore market, things are picking up,” says Oliver Mason, Principal Technical Consultant at Spinnaker. “Since the word ‘lockdown’ was first mentioned, the price of oil dropped instantly, and OSV companies had to accept the cheap rates. But now we’re at a point where oil fields and rigs are up and running again. A client of mine turned down the chance to bid for an ARAMCO contract – those cheap rates are being rejected, it’s not a buyers’ market anymore. The general feeling from my clients is that they’re all expecting a better ’22.” 

Sustainability driving change 

Technical recruitment remains stable,” says David Tubb, Director, Recruitment at Spinnaker. “There are opportunities through natural movement that would be expected in the market, yet not too many opportunities being created through growth as the net size of fleets largely remains the same. Where there are changes it’s through acquisitions and distressed assets finding their way into ship managers with economies of scale.”  

ESG are the initials on everyone’s lips of course. Spinnaker is handling all sorts of job titles the didn’t exist 5 or 10 years ago. We’re definitely moving beyond image and seeing clients serious about what can be done to make actual changes. Just as shipping shaped up and hired HR professionals from other sectors some years ago, we’re now seeking ‘external’ sustainability skills. 

The maritime tech market continues to fight for the best salespeople on the market. It’s not unusual for candidates to be having conversations with multiple companies and having several offers on the table at one time. It’s a candidate market for these people and it’s coming down to salary and commission structures, the culture of the organisation …and candidates are evaluating the products of hiring companies much more closely than ever before, before joining them. 

Maintaining stability 

We’re finding that finance and accounting opportunities remain buoyant at the junior to middle management level through attrition, growth, and internal promotions.  Opportunities at the senior management and director level continue to be narrow as organisations are keen to hold on to the great people they have and maintain stability rather than changing the status quo.   

It will be interesting to see how the continual changes to international travel restrictions and global mobility impacts business decisions over the next three months and how that will translate into recruitment opportunities as people are again able to move more freely,” concludes Tubb. 

For more information on our recruitment and search services, click here.  

A selection of our recent successful placements: 

  • Sale Representative, Fort Lauderdale  
  • In-house Lawyer, Superyachts, Middle East 
  • Dry Bulk Vessel Operator, Singapore 
  • Technical Purchaser, Germany  
  • Operations Manager, Houston 
  • Commercial Operator, London 
  • Operations Assistant, London  
  • Operations Manager, Singapore 
  • Marine Superintendent, Athens  
  • Dry Cargo Shipbroker, South England  
  • Law Firm – Master Mariner, London 
  • Deputy Commercial Manager, LNG, London 
  • Technical Manager, London  
  • Director of Project Management (Transshipment), Germany  
  • FD&D Solicitor, UK  
  • Senior Operations Manager (Bulk), London   
  • Operations Superintendent – Towage, Italy 
  • Marine Personnel Officer (Dry), London  
  • Technical Superintendent, Tankers, Denmark 

It’s a candidate’s market

Colleagues at work together

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.”

If you’d like to know more about our salary benchmarking or recruitment services, visit our website.

The superyacht market boom


The superyacht market is one that is emerging from the pandemic not entirely scot-free (who did?) but in a pretty strong position and in generally rather robust health.

Like in many industries, superyacht production ground to a halt in 2020 and the pandemic “played havoc” with delivery schedules according to Boat International. Many deliveries have been pushed into 2021, but in a buoyant upturn for the sector, the current global order book stands at 741.

The explorer yacht (those purpose built for long-distance cruising) market is also reported to be “on fire”, accounting for almost 10% of the global order book. There are 64 in this year’s order book compared to 58 in 2020. There has also been significant growth in support vessels, a large increase in 37 – 60m projects being built, and active shipyards are on the up (179 as opposed to 151 in 2019). In short, as Sam Tucker, head of superyacht research at market intelligence firm VesselsValue said when interviewed by the BBC recently, “The market’s been absolutely roaring.”

All of this adds up to a general feeling of long-term confidence in the superyacht industry, particularly in the top builders of superyachts (Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Turkey). All of these areas are building more and bigger yachts, with Turkey seeing the largest surge in growth as it was generally less disrupted by covid than other areas.

Consumer anxiety is predicted to remain in 2021 but with vaccination programmes taking effect, normality is predicted to resume in some form in the second half of the year, adding to the confidence in the sector to continue growing and booming.

Here at Spinnaker, we’re definitely seeing a significant increase in superyacht roles. “While we’ve always had a steady number of superyacht vacancies, the uptick has definitely been notable in the past year or so,” says Teresa Peacock, Managing Director of Spinnaker’s recruitment business. “We speak to a huge number of people in the sector and the general feeling is that things are very positive indeed. The orderbooks are healthy, and market optimism is high.”

We caught up with Toby Allies, Joint Managing Director at Pendennis Shipyard, who has been in the yachting industry for almost 30 years. We asked him how the pandemic had affected business: “The Superyacht industry is a global market place and so has been affected heavily by the pandemic in terms of issues around the movement of people and goods. It has proved challenging at times for us especially around the redelivery of projects, but as a team Pendennis are working through it. I’m proud to say in 2020 we delivered several significant projects including the new build sailing yacht Halekai and the 75m motor yacht Lady E, which we conducted a significant 5 metre stern extension on.”

This durability in what was a really tough time for most businesses globally is a testament to the Pendennis ethos. And it’s growing, too: “We currently have just over 400 people working on site at our main Falmouth base and are currently looking to increase this by 10 % over the next 6 months adding more skilled tradespeople to join our team,” says Allies.

As a company we specialise in the custom build and refit of Superyachts from 30-90m and this will continue to be at the very heart of our business moving forward. We are continually looking at opportunities to grow and invest into our core businesses both at home and abroad (in additional to its main Falmouth base, Pendennis also operates a Technical Service Centre and adjacent marina just outside of Barcelona, Spain).”

The sentiment within superyachts is very much positive. We are sure to see this continue throughout 2021 and beyond. Interested in working within the sector?

Top superyacht vacancies with Spinnaker:

International Sales Executive – exclusive role with Pendennis Shipyard

In-house lawyer (superyachts) – Middle East

Crew and HR Manager – Yachts

Asset Finance Associate – Yachts / Super Yachts

Covid and the superyacht industry


The covid pandemic has certainly made its impact on the maritime industry as a whole, but we thought we’d take a closer look at the superyacht sector specifically as here at Spinnaker, we’ve noticed an uptick in superyacht roles, indicating a promising outlook for that sector.

Difficulties for superyachts

Firstly, it’s not all been good news for the sector. Significant markets for superyachts have been hit hard economically by covid; the US economy is expected to shrink 3.5%, the UK suffered a 9.4% drop in GDP forecast and Russia’s GDP slumped by 4%. We know from the rest of the industry that lockdowns have led to recession which have led to rising unemployment.

The costs around chartering superyachts are, as we know, significant, and with new uncertainty around safety of staff there is a new importance that charterparties are as crystal clear as possible on the repercussions of if contractual duties are unable to be upheld due to the pandemic.

Savings and investments

However, according to Boat International, household wealth has been relatively well protected during this time. At the start of the pandemic, many wealthy people retreated to their superyachts for large portions of 2020 to avoid the pandemic.

The psychological effects of the pandemic has also encouraged some with the wealth behind them to “seize the day” and buy that yacht they’ve always wanted. According to Boat International’s discussion with Burgess Yachts, the “20-30m market is on fire” at the moment.

Shipyards have seen a slow in sales, but no actual order cancellations, which is promising.

Boat shows and international travel were suspended for most of 2020, which was detrimental in lots of ways but did also lead to companies saving money that way. Savings in the bank can only be good for companies during market uncertainty.

New considerations

There are new considerations for the superyacht industry when it comes to covid safety. What happens if the crew or guests need to isolate? How will they get tested on board? Are there covid contagious hotspots they should avoid cruising to?

For the UK, one of the hardest hit countries during the pandemic, the Bank of England is predicting a highly positive return to normal for the economy once lockdown restrictions are lifted. If we see this confidence worldwide, a return to normal service for superyachts could be a realistic goal for 2021 and beyond.

Provided that the covid conditions worldwide continue to be stable, boat shows will return, and the orderbook will be healthy once again.

Yacht recruitment

Spinnaker has definitely noticed an increase in shipyards and brokers recruiting for the superyacht sector in recent months. “Market optimism and the projected easing of lockdown measures due for the summer and beyond have combined to give our clients confidence to hire and build their teams,” says Spinnaker Managing Director Teresa Peacock. “Across the board, the brokers I am speaking to all say that the market is buoyant.”

Our top yacht industry vacancies: