In an exclusive interview to SAFETY4SEA, Henrik Jensen, CEO and Founder of Danica Crewing Specialists, suggests how seafarer training should adapt to new challenges and highlights the importance of providing to seafarers fully contracted employment.
e further emphasizes that in the pursuit of tomorrow’s workforce and the retention of skilled professionals, there will be intense competition, given the multitude of attractive career opportunities and competitive salaries offered by technology, IT, and engineering firms. The maritime sector faces stiff rivalry from eco-friendly technology and IT enterprises, which present enticing prospects for dynamic and sustainable employment, featuring flexible schedules and remote work options.
SAFETY4SEA: What are the top priorities in your agenda? Are there any recent developments/ highlights that you would like to share?
Henrik Jensen: Our top priority is to supply our clients with the best quality crew, and to retain them, thereby enabling our clients to operate their vessels in an efficient and safe manner while fulfilling their business goals. This is becoming more challenging as the shortage of competent crew grows. To ensure a reliable supply of quality seafarers, Danica has expanded, adding Indian and Filipino seafarers to our large portfolio of European crew.
S4S: What are the key soft skills that maritime professionals must have?
H.J.: All seafarers must be team orientated and have the necessary social skills to allow them to function successfully together with their fellow crew members in the small community onboard. For officers – particularly the senior team – they must have good leadership skills and be able to lead a multicultural crew. In Danica we believe it’s important to support crew by monitoring their performance, both as individuals and as a team, to identify areas of strength and weakness. We then support them through targeted mentoring onboard and, when necessary, by efficient close-the-gap training courses. In addition, crew identified as having the potential for promotion are enrolled in our Promotion Pipeline Program which prepares them for the next higher rank. That way they don’t ever find themselves out of their depth and, by nurturing their talent, they are motivated to perform and learn. Demonstrating to talented crew that they have career opportunities, enables us to retain good people.
S4S: What are the future skills for the next generation of shipping? What should be industry’s top priorities considering the fourth industrial revolution?
H.J.: Things are going to change: new fuels, digital developments, and even new technologies we don’t know about yet. At present it’s important to have a sound amount of knowledge and experience. But as the maritime world changes, and at fast pace, it will become more important to have the ability to learn new things and to be flexible and open to new ways and methods on how a vessel is operated.
As AI finds its way into control systems onboard then a high degree of situational awareness will become important. The duty officer’s role will change from being an operator to being an observer. The systems will make the decisions about tasks like navigation, such as taking action to avoid collisions. The duty officer must have the ability to understand what is happening and be able to evaluate whether the system decisions are reasonable or need his/her intervention. This requires a high degree of situational awareness.
S4S: In a report, BIMCO and ICS have warned that the industry must significantly increase training and recruitment levels in order to avoid a serious crew shortage. How concerning is the crew shortage and where ship operators need to shed their attention?
H.J.: The BIMCO/ICS report is a bit theoretical, but it is the best we have. The report takes the number of vessels of each type and multiplies by the number crew members typically onboard each vessel type. It then compares this number with the number of issued STCW licenses in each country. The report also makes a forecast of world fleet growth, output from maritime training institutions, and considers the age profile of the seafaring pool. From a basic point, the report does not consider how many of the issued STCW licenses are active seafarers and I suspect this figure may therefore be too high.
However, what is more of concern is that the BIMCO/ICS report is based on quantitative (the number of crew) and it is not based on quality (the number of crew available with the education, experience and soft skills required to operate the vessels in the way owners need). In other words: there is an increasing and alarming shortage of competent crew, particularly senior officers.
S4S: In your view, how will the industry’s workforce look like in 2030? How has the pandemic impacted the landscape? What are the competing forces shaping the maritime world this decade?
H.J.: The pandemic caused some Asian ratings to leave the industry as they had to find jobs ashore to have an income, and remuneration in these jobs is competitive to their earnings as seaman, while it’s also more convenient to be at home. However, I think this gap will be closed again soon.
For the recruitment of tomorrow’s talent, and retaining that talent, the competition will be high because tech, IT and engineering companies have many appealing career offers with good salaries. The maritime industry is competing against green tech – IT companies offered challenging and sustainable jobs with flexible working hours and remote working. If you look at surveys about what is important when young people are selecting an employer, then the top scores are for fairly-paid, ethical companies in technology or the environmental sectors. The maritime industry will still offer jobs on vessels emitting CO2 for a long time to come, spending long periods away from home in challenging environments and with the potential of having to sail in war or pirate zones. In addition the maritime press is still reporting issues with seafarers not paid on time or cases of abandonment. The big tech companies are spending large resources to create a positive image to potential recruits, and the maritime industry needs to put more effort into working together to improve and safeguard our image in order to demonstrate to new recruits that maritime careers have much to offer them.
S4S: How should the training be transformed to adapt to new reality? How to train the trainer?
H.J.: Seafarers, particularly senior officers, are often required to use a large portion of their home period on training. It is valuable time for them and we must be sure that the training adds value to the seafarers and ship owners. The training must be provided in a flexible way so it can fit in to the seafarer’s private schedule without overly disturbing their family time.
That every officer every five years must spend time and money on sitting in classes for renewing their STCW licenses, repeating the same training on unchanged regulations and rules, is a waste of time and money and does not bring much value. This refreshment training should only focus on new and changed regulations and technologies.
S4S: In your view, has the industry been successful in embracing and upskilling maritime professionals? What are the lessons learned and what should be the next steps?
H.J.: Some companies are doing a lot of training and investing a lot of money in their seafarers and in the future they’re going to have a competitive advantage as their crew will be able to operate the vessels and the upgrades of technology onboard in a more efficient manner. Unfortunately, there are companies who instead of contributing to the training of seafarers prefer to poach seafarers from the global pot.
I believe that, moving forwards, the STCW training should focus on new technology developments and leadership. Senior officers should focus on creating onboard environments which support the seafarers’ well-being. In this way we will have wide-spread and overall lift of all seafarers’ competences, making them ready to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.
S4S: If you could change one thing across the industry from your perspective, what this would be and why?
H.J.: We must move away from the short-term contract approach to seafarers and offer permanent employment. It will give the seafarers a feeling of belonging to the company which will benefit retention and loyalty. Fully contracted employment would also enable seafaring to be seen as good profession among banks, mortgage providers etc.
S4S: Do you have any plans/ projects/ initiatives that you would like to share?
H.J.: Things are moving at pace in the shipping industry and naturally we are investigating how technologies, such as AI, can benefit us in the process of manning vessels. Not to replace our excellent and competent recruitment teams but to streamline and speed up the processes. We’re currently conducting a pilot project on this so watch this space!
S4S: What is your key message to maritime professionals in order to remain up to date with latest developments and develop a sustainable skills strategy?
H.J.: Change is inevitable, like death and taxes, so be open minded. Always consider can I do this in a better way? Learn from others and accept changes positively as developments which safeguard your job.
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.