IN LATE 2017, I was shocked to receive more than 30 email bounce backs from a distribution to Young Shipping Australia (YSA) members after sending out an invitation to one of our monthly functions. They had left the industry, moved on from the lines, logistics providers, freight forwarders and associated industry companies where they had once worked and had been valued industry contributors. It was a sobering reality that many young people had quit the industry. It is true we had just come out of the longest and most depressed periods for shipping rates in a generation.
The email bounce-backs drove home that suddenly, there were fewer opportunities, stagnant wage growth, smaller bonuses and more attractive jobs elsewhere in other industries. In addition, there has been progressively more automation in shipping which has resulted in rising redundancies and the movement of back-office roles away from Australia to cheaper labour markets. Few industries, and shipping is certainly not one of them, have not been seriously affected by digital technology and a relentless search by major employers for low-cost labour.
At sea, there is a looming shortage of seafarers. A Drewry report released in early 2018 warned that, globally, shipping will require an additional 42,500 officers by 2019. Attracting the next generation of workers at sea from the most consumerist generation in history is proving difficult. Increasingly quicker port turnarounds, stringent security and visa requirements, combined with seven-day working weeks and long periods of time away from family, the industry faces a challenging task in attracting the best people.
So what attracts people to maritime industry in the first place? This silent industry dominated by global conglomerates few outside have heard of that are responsible for ultimately transporting almost every item bought by households worldwide. I believe that most people who end up working in the maritime industry simply fall into it through family or a friend, or by applying for a job after university or school to a company that happens to be logistics-related. Intentional or not, industry joiners will soon come to a realisation of a whole new world. The scale of the industry that delivers your winter sweater or newest iPhone is mind-boggling once it is appreciated how complex it is. Some are attracted to the romanticism of a career in the industry involving great vessels, international trade across jurisdictions and vast seas.
I believe there is room for improvement here in Australia. We need to attract the best and brightest to our industry, as we have fallen well behind based on comparisons with other more traditional maritime countries such as Singapore, Germany, Greece and the Scandinavian nations. The Singapore Maritime Foundation is worth noting for promoting potential career paths within the industry for talented university graduates. It is not only up to industry bodies, but also the private sector to share the role of attracting the best young strategic thinkers with an aptitude for technology. With improving freight rates and for most global shipping companies, it will be interesting to see if better returns allow for more enticing offers to potential industry entrants. It will be the industry that benefits most by adopting this course of thinking.
YSA was established to encourage and assist young professionals in the shipping industry in Australia with regular educational and social events tailored to professional development for the under 35s age group. If you would like to get involved in Young Shipping Australia, our email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also kickstart your knowledge of the shipping industry with online training courses available through Shipping Australia.
* Stephen Westfield is the chairman of Young Shipping Australia, New South Wales
This article appeared in the July edition of DCN Magazine