“SO WHAT do you do for a living?”
The infallible icebreaker that has been around for longer than shipping itself. The good thing about telling people you work in shipping is the reaction it can elicit. When people realise you are not a doctor or an accountant, they tend to show more interest and allow their imagination to shape follow-up questions. “So do pirates still exist?”
Shipping is not a common career path and many of us have fallen into it inadvertently. I was one of the few who intentionally pursued a career in shipping. I was always around boats and the ocean growing up and it was when our family moved to a house overlooking the pilot boarding ground off the Port of Brisbane that my interest turned into a passion. The ships would pass less than half a nautical mile off Caloundra Head where our house was located, making it a prime position for ship spotting. I would log the ship movements and become fascinated with the voyages, cargos and a life at sea. I had become a certified shipping nerd. A few years later, I would enrol in the Australian Maritime College and sail as a cadet on oil tankers and bulk carriers in Australia and South East Asia. My time at sea was one of the best experiences of my life. I spent 14 months on ships before returning home to take up a shore job. Since then, I have worked for PAE in Brisbane and Melbourne and spent 12 months on secondment at PIL China – Shanghai Office.
The shipping industry needs to do more to attract talent. Not just university graduates, but people from outside fields that can offer meaningful contributions for the advancement of our industry. Ours is an ancient profession in a modern world, making it ripe for disruption. This is where the opportunity lies. Signs of disruption are beginning to emerge, through the advent of blockchain technology and artificial intelligence, for example. Aside from its main purpose of improving efficiencies, disruption can also play an important role in modernising shipping and attracting new talent to the field. We need bright minds to carry these new ideas forward and keep shipping at the forefront of innovation and technology. Similarly, shipping lines, agencies and other associated businesses need to adapt to ensure they are providing workplaces that foster talent, support innovation and encourage the challenging of the status quo.
Anyone considering a career in shipping should be encouraged by the industry’s appetite for change and openness to innovation. Shipping has woken up and realised that its future relevance and value depends on doing things better. Shipping has been the lifeblood of global trade for thousands of years. The next 50 years will see most significant changes in generations.
* James Kurz is the Victoria state manager for Pacific Asia Express (PAE) Pty Ltd
This article appeared in the July edition of DCN Magazine