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October 28, 2008

Economic downturn won't ease crew shortages

David Dearsley, Secretary General of the International Maritime Employers' Committee Ltd. (IMEC) is calling on shipping to maintain a long-term and far sighted training program to deal with the crew crisis.

He believes that the present world economic crisis will not significantly impact shipping's manpower shortage.

The shortage of qualified officers is such that a significant decline in the world fleet through scrapping, lay-ups and newbuilding cancelations might be expected to reduce the shortage to more manageable numbers. However, in past recessions, qualified seafarers have demonstrated that they can get shore-based jobs relatively easily as their technical and professional skills are transferable. And many shore-based industries value the flexibility and hands on skills of seafarers.

"Young people all over the world looking for careers as they leave university, use the internet to source information in a way that did not exist even ten years ago," Mr. Dearsley today told delegates at the ACI 3rd Maritime HR & Crew Development Conference in London. "Any company or industry that shuts its doors to the recruitment and training of its next generation of skilled workers will send a clear and long-lasting message that it is in terminal decline. We run the very real risk of sending out this message again today, not just in the U.K. or Europe but globally, unless we maintain a long-term and far sighted training program to deal with the crew crisis."

Many owners facing pressure on margins are bound to reduce “discretionary spending," which includes the training program.

If the recession produces a reduction in the scale of the officer shortages and reduces the pressure on officer wage rates, it will be even more difficult to resist demands to reduce the number of cadets being trained.

In Mr. Dearsley's view, the only way to make sure that the errors of the past are not repeated is to maintain recruitment and training programs.

"This does not mean that they should be maintained precisely as they are today," he said. "Indeed this would not be sustainable. It means maintaining our intake of cadets but targeting our resources better in order to reduce wastage and improve the quality of the output --where possible spreading the costs with other like-minded companies."

London-based IMEC represents over 120 companies worldwide, operating some 6,500 ships of all types under more than 40 flags. They employ over 157,000 seafarers of all nationalities.

Last year, IMEC took a long term strategic decision on cadet training.

"When considering the officer shortage we concluded that simply throwing more cadets into the system would not necessarily prove to be the answer in some of our major labor supply countries," said Mr. Dearsley. "The Working Group we established to consider the officer shortage was particularly struck by the fact that some 10 % of our Filipino ratings held valid officer licenses. They were also struck by the fact that each year some 18,000 young Filipinos commenced training programs designed to deliver officer watchkeeping certificates after the four-year period, but only some 4,000 officers were actually produced. The balance obtained work ashore or became ratings.

"Clearly, recruiting yet more cadets into this system would not produce the desired effect of producing enough officers to overcome the shortage," he continued. "So we decided to follow the lead already initiated by the Norwegian Shipowners Association and try to change the system. Starting from scratch this year we decided to select cadets to educational, aptitude and medical standards that we set, to train them to standards we set, in particular in respect of reduced class sizes and the provision of educational materials and equipment, and to ensure that the lecturers were fully competent and selected by IMEC. The program is fully sponsored through International Maritime Training Trust (IMTT) and the cadets receive a full scholarship covering tuition fees, accommodation and food, uniforms and training materials. The cadets are assured of the 12 months sea time training with an IMEC member during the third training year and will return to that company once they have obtained their officer license."

"Of particular importance given the current economic crisis," said Mr. Dearsley, the manner in which the program is financed through an industry fund should minimize cost during a time when training budgets will inevitably come under severe pressure."

Since 1998 IMEC has used a collective bargaining system to establish a training fund maintained in the International Maritime Training Trust (IMTT), which is based on the Isle of Man. The fund has made donations of around $1 million per year to the training institutions in the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Poland and more recently, Eastern Europe. The grants have provided for free fall lifeboats, bridge and engine simulators, model ships for ship handling facilities, libraries and many subsidized courses in, for example, English language, accident prevention and chart correction.


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