As with so many of the wants and needs of seafarers, it doesn’t seem too much to ask in this technological age, but crews want to be in contact with home as regularly and affordably as possible.
The Crewtoo Seafarers Happiness Index has given those working at sea a voice, and has highlighted the basics required for a satisfying and rewarding life at sea. From the 2015 results, seafarers stated they want to feel connected at a reasonable price and with good quality service.
Unfortunately, it is still difficult for many seafarers to feel connected to their families and friends. While the rest of the world is connected like never before, seafarers are being left behind.
Shipping needs to be able to bridge the gap by understanding what seafarers want and then by delivering it. It is necessary to understand and to appreciate what people expect of their place of work and leisure time – and ships are no different to offices ashore, employees want certain things to be addressed.
It is clear that onboard job satisfaction and internet access are intrinsically linked. That is where connectivity and access to the internet is increasingly key, and there needs to be a means of providing the online access seafarers crave so much.
According to various shipping surveys and reports, it seems that there is a likely shortage of officers in the coming years. So there are serious recruitment challenges ahead to secure the talent shipping needs. It seems the issue of internet access may well become a battleground as companies seek to get the crews they need.
It seems increasingly likely that seafarers will not choose to work in a profession which sees them become some kind of second class citizens. Data suggests that the traditional seafaring manpower nations are embracing internet access at an incredible rate, and so seafarers from those states are in danger of being left behind.
India will have an estimated 500 million internet users by 2017. While the recent Global Web Index report states that the Philippines has the fastest growing internet population in the world, experiencing 531% growth in the last five years.
So very soon the brightest young potential seafaring recruits will consider it second nature to be online, while those already at sea will find being disconnected from home increasingly hard to bear.
Seafarers are increasingly making decisions based on the quality, availability and accessibility of onboard communications. In surveys which have questioned whether crew communications onboard influenced seafarer decisions about which shipping companies they worked for. The answer has increasingly been a clear and resounding “YES”.
In one study, 73% of respondents said communication services did influence their decisions about who they worked for. This is something that no shipping company should ignore, lest they find themselves with ships but no seafarers.
Attracting people to sea in the future will require a deep understanding of what they want, so listening to current and future seafarers is vital. People on ships want to feel valued and contented.
For employers, this means making and keeping people happy. Seafarers crave connection, and amongst crews there is a growing sense of desperation to be connected. Access to the internet, to social media and to home are therefore key recruitment and retention issues, and are amongst the most prevalent and emotive factors affecting seafarers today.
Seafarers want fast, reliable and cheap connections, and where these are lacking, it is a source of frustration and irritation. Crews just won’t put up with this for much longer. So companies need to find answers.
While the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) covers areas such as food, health, wages and comfort – it does focus on connectivity too. Seafarers should be granted “reasonable” access to internet facilities, where available. Though this sounds a little bit of a cop out.
So for owners, this is about going above and beyond legislation – and it increasingly seems that being perceived as a good, progressive, enlightened employer rests on providing seafarers with internet access.
Life at sea is not like that at home, but it can still be made to feel like a good experience. That is the challenge – to make the ship safe, efficient, clean, and secure – but to also make it a good place for seafarers to be.
There is talk of an “unmanned” future for shipping – but it would be a very brave shipowner gambling on such a vision within the next few years. Manning is about reality today, and there needs to be a means of enticing and keeping the best people now.
Owners want and need people who are motivated, engaged, passionate and clever. Attracting this calibre of people becomes impossible when the pleasures of life at sea are so much less than they would be ashore. In addition, ever more technologically advanced ships mean that seafarers have to be increasingly skilled to operate them. Wanting “more and better” means a completely new way of looking at the issue.
Empathy and understanding are essential, but there also needs to be clarity on what motivates and gets the best out of people at sea. The message has to be that life at sea is good.
Connected ships are incredibly persuasive when it comes to recruitment and retention. Allowing seafarers the access to communication and information they want is the right thing, and it shows the company cares. Soon it won’t be an option – as more and more fleets and vessels are connected, those which aren’t fall ever further behind. Shipowners are going to need to address connectivity, and the time to do so is here.
Do make decisions to join companies based on connectivity and internet access? How important is it to be in contact with home for you? Let us know what you think…