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Maritime recruitment faces diminishing skill pools, passive candidates, and brutal counteroffers

Informa Markets Faststream's Martin Bennell speaking at CMA Shipping 2023
Maritime recruiters face multiple moving trends as companies and talent navigate high employment in a post-COVID marketplace.

Speaking at CMA Shipping 2023 in Connecticut, Martin Bennell, Managing Director at Faststream outlined current trends in hiring and employment within the maritime industry, highlighting recent changes and challenges in recruitment.

At the heart of the issue, candidates are leading the market. With heightened confidence they are imposing higher expectations on companies keen on employing them, said Bennell. Increasingly. potential applicants are in gainful employment and passive; this means recruiters need to nurture those relationships and tease out which of those candidates may be interested in the work rather than just sifting through direct applications.

“There's not too many candidates out of work and most people are moving around, so they're probably gainfully employed, and their employer probably doesn't want them to leave. So, whilst you've got to compete with the other interviews and the other offers, you've also got the counteroffer,” said Bennell. Counteroffers are increased pay offers made to an employee by a current employer to prevent an employee leaving the company for a new role.

“We've never known a market like it, we've never known counteroffers to shoot up like in the last 12 months, it's crazy. In our best example, or worst depending how you look at it, someone got double base salary to stay.”

Speaking to Seatrade Maritime News, Bennell said that the market is so extreme that he has made counteroffers to employees for the first time in his 21-year career, despite knowing the general industry rule that a candidate should never accept a counteroffer.

Inflationary pressures are feeding desires for better pay, said Bennell.

“In salaries and pay rises, there’s a massive global trend. There's strikes everywhere, as we all know, and inflationary pay rises now. I think if you're not offering annual pay rises at the moment, you'll get found out very quickly. I think everyone's almost expecting a pay rise now,” said Bennell.

Recent surveys by Faststream found that 28% of superintendents were looking for new roles with better salary, 34% of naval architects and 43% of maritime salespeople.

On the other side of high counter offers, stress purchasing is on the rise in the sector.

“We get desperate phone calls on a Friday, ‘someone's quit, we need someone on Monday’ and it's not really the best way to recruit. As much as we quite enjoy it and everyone gets excited in my business, we as an industry have got to have better succession planning… you may not get the person you want if you're in panic mode,” said Bennell.

With a shrinking talent pool, maritime companies are having to loosen their requirements to find the right candidates and accept that it may take training to bring a candidate up to speed.

“We have companies who give you the job spec, which is so specific and dictates candidates must have this exact background. Well, they’re having to open it up a little bit now,” said Bennell.

In a candidate-led environment, onboarding and recruitment processes need to be smooth in the weeks and months between offer, acceptance and starting work to prevent bad impressions or a change of heart. Keeping in touch during a notice period and keeping the candidate in the loop is just part of the hard work it takes to keep that candidate.

Faststream’s data shows that more employees are returning to the office, but not full time. Hybrid working has become an essential offering for attracting talent, and there remains a gap between the desire for remote/hybrid working and the amount on offer.

The recruitment industry has dubbed the current phenomenon generation C, although the C has gone through multiple iterations in recent years. First it was generation COVID for the pandemic changes to work attitudes, then generation carbon for the increasing focus on environmental responsibility, “at the moment we think it's generation choice,” said Bennell.