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A tale of sowing and reaping by providing quality seafarer training

A tale of sowing and reaping by providing quality seafarer training
It was a very low key announcement, earlier this month ,which noted that Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK) had appointed its first Philippine master and chief engineer to one of the company’s LNG carriers. NYK Shipmanagement does not traditionally go in for much flag waving, but this was clearly an event which afforded both the shipping company, and its training institution established last century in the Philippines, some pride and no little satisfaction.

It was an interesting, if unspoken, riposte to all the discussions there have been over the years about the quality and competence of Philippine officers. Just last year the European Commission had despatched a delegation to the south-east Asian country to check out the maritime education establishments and what exactly they were delivering. It seems that there is quite a regular “purge” of the large number of maritime colleges in that country, following periodic allegations that some of their products are just not up to the job, when, bearing their new certificates, they go to sea.

The NYK “good news” story is worth deeper consideration as it does underline a number of important truths about investment, education, employment, competence and responsibility. They are truths which ought to resonate internationally throughout the industry, which has, to put it bluntly, a patchy record, when it comes to training those officers it entrusts with the ships it owns.

It is not exactly a mystery that what any company gets out of education in the quality of graduates from its institutions depends in direct proportion upon what they put into them. The big Japanese shipping company was by no means the first shipowner to realise the considerable potential of a country with a good education system and, moreover, young people not averse to a sea career. Norwegian companies were among the first to establish their own educational establishment in the Philippines and their investment, has seen companies like Stolt-Nielsen, for instance, enjoying a good supply of high quality officers who for many years have been occupying the most senior posts aboard their sophisticated ships. As the NYK appointments underline, investment in quality education pays.

It is also a reminder that there is more to manning a ship than finding the requisite number of bodies bearing the right sort of paper qualifications. To be an officer in NYK, a company which has been in being for nearly 130 years, is to be part of a career structure and those young people who have been selected from the Philippines have been “company” from their first enrolment.  This is a far cry from the casual manning processes which disfigures so much of the industry’s approach.

The process which eventually was to produce these senior officers was not rocket science, but an expression of responsibility, with the Japanese employer offering bright young people not just a job, but a career. They did not rely on third parties manning their ships. They did not depend upon government or private educational establishments providing what level of competence they could, and taking what candidates were available. They have regarded education as an investment, rather than a cost, with competent officers trained to their own standards, providing their eventual return.

There are other companies which have gone down the same route and have similarly found that with the right recruitment policies, close attention to education to their own standards and the provision of a proper career structure, they retain competent and well-motivated   officers, who can be trusted with any of their ships. The nationality of these officers, provided such a winning formula is applied, might be considered immaterial.  

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