Solving the maritime recruitment crisis: why salary rises are not enough

Phil Parry, chairman of Spinnaker, writes for Splash today on hiring priorities.

There is a palpable supply-side shortfall in maritime recruitment, particularly in commercial and operational roles. As a result, shipping companies are frequently forced to exceed their recruitment budgets to attract new talent at above-market levels.

The job market is still suffering from the effects of the “Great Resignation” which has seen many people reassess what is important to them, and what they expect from their post-pandemic career. Pay rises and bonuses are therefore being handed out to prevent competitors from tempting existing staff away, and a lot of attractive offers are being turned down once existing employers make a defensive counter-offer.

We have moved from a cynical to a more authentic culture in shipping

The market for support staff, for graduates and second-jobbers is particularly red hot. As a group, these people have more choice than we’ve ever seen before. It’s adding to the headaches for shipping companies, as they are having to pay inflated salaries for people with little or no experience and who, on paper, might previously have been their second choice.

The challenges are not unique to the industry, so shipping companies are also facing even tougher competition than usual from other sectors suffering from the same talent-supply problems. Of course, if you need staff, you have to fish in the same pond as everyone else and cope with the market conditions. The good news is that solving the maritime recruitment crisis is not entirely dependent on remuneration.

Employers are also focusing on culture, training, and personal development with a vigour that we’ve never seen before in this industry. The message seems to have got through that people want to feel that their employer and their individual roles have a purpose – a ‘why’. This isn’t necessarily about grandiose change-the-world missions but about giving people a reason to get up and come in to work in the morning.

A recent survey we conducted revealed that 86% of maritime organisations have now implemented some form of remote working, and 40% of those remaining are planning to. Companies that do not keep up with changing working culture are already finding themselves facing an even harder recruitment situation. From a work culture perspective, the pandemic 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 the most common request. No flexibility means no candidate interest!

It does feel very much like we have moved from a cynical to a more authentic culture in shipping. Not only do employers seem to ‘get’ the need for purpose and for investment in leadership development, there also seems a genuine desire to get the ESG agenda right. Most of our clients talk about sustainability with an openness and desire to change that goes far beyond meeting minimum regulatory standards. As a result, they are willing to learn – and recruit – from other sectors.

Despite looming recessionary clouds and concerns about inflation, overall recruitment demand is high at the moment and there is a general sense that this will continue. For instance, improving tanker market sentiment has started to drive the kind of demand and moves in that sector that we’ve been seeing in dry bulk for the last couple of years.

However, it is always worth bearing in mind that the only consistent thing about the job market for the last three years is that it has been very inconsistent! If you are in the process of hiring, you may be forced to offer higher salaries to attract candidates. However, re-evaluating working practices, thinking about purpose, investing in people and their development is a far more sustainable and effective approach to talent retention.


Splash is Asia Shipping Media’s flagship title offering timely, informed and global news from the maritime industry 24/7.


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