This article was first published on Safety4sea.
While the world is adapting to the new reality introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic, the shipping industry is still trying to cope with the challenges it left behind. One of the biggest hurdles shipowners have been facing are crew changes; a fact that, not only almost paralyzed the industry, but also revealed how demanding crew manning really is. And, although, shipping seems to have started taking advantage of innovation to solve a plethora of issues in various departments (e.g. environmental impact, safety, cargo handling, route planning), manning seems to be overlooked. How can this happen when crewing constitutes such a big proportion of a vessel's daily operating expenses?
This lag in crewing's digital revolution comes as a surprise. Crew managers and operators are struggling to coordinate everyday operations using outdated infrastructure. At the same time, manning agents have not been keeping up with the digital reality of today. Along with them, the whole recruitment process seems to be falling off, affecting millions of seafarers. The inefficiency of the existing foundation and processes were brought into the spotlight because of the pandemic; almost 200.000 seafarers were stuck ashore, jobless, while shipping companies were searching for competent sailors to hire. The situation has made it clear that the digital transformation of crewing is no longer just a need; it is a mandate.
We see many opportunities where technology and data can help improve crewing in every aspect. Digital sourcing of seafarers is a crucial element of this. The remote nature of the seafarers’ work has brought them very close to technology. As the internet has become an inherent part of their everyday lives, digital sourcing almost comes as a natural next step. This, though, doesn’t make it “a walk in the park”. It is not only about getting in touch with seafarers through digital ads/posts wherever they might be, but also about creating a perceptive product with the right incentive and user interface for them to use and trust. In spite of having CV application forms implemented on their websites, shipping companies struggle to receive structured applications from seafarers, who avoid using these "impersonal" channels. What is needed, in other words, is a user experience designed by deeply expertised digital and product marketers, with the right value proposition for the seafarer: simplicity, fairness and transparency in the job market.
Digital sourcing brings us to the next step of this discussion; data-driven seafarer vetting. It comes as no surprise that crew departments search to hire the most qualified candidates for their vessels. Part of the recruitment process followed, is the validation of the seafarer’s background. This has been highlighted as a big day-to-day issue. In our various discussions with crew managers, they focused on the time spent manually in trying to attain information on a seafarer’s past. A big share of the working day is spent on a daily basis seeking scattered intel of dubious origin and entering the same data in a difficult-to-use ERP system. The power of data can act as a core differentiator to this lack of transparency, time lost and risk of onboarding the “wrong” person. Imagine using technology to automatically cross-check seafarer experience with multiple data sources and to indicate the authenticity of an assessment of skills. We are strong advocates of such digital solutions that simplify processes and boost the efficiency of crewing decisions.
Data processing tech has not only the power to bring transparency, but also to achieve the coveted seafarers’ retention rates into a pool along with fairness to the system. By using a centralized repository and specific software tools, crew managers can gain useful intelligence on their pool, helping them structure a crew growth plan. This kind of awareness can be derived from using a salary benchmarking tool, to offer fairer remuneration and attract good quality talent. A psychometric assessment of the seafarer can also help shipping companies with that. Getting insights about the “human” behind the “seafarer” and understanding the various personalities, can help in communicating and messaging to crews. What is clear to us is that data and digital tools can be a real game changer; not by replacing the personal contact but by supplementing the creation of a structured, beneficial relationship between seafarer and crew manager.