Watchkeeper on crewing: the price of experience
Seafarers were once amazingly flexible folk, whose qualifications embraced a range of competencies and who were able to move around between most sectors on demand. Ships were different to each other, hence the old saying- “different ships- different long splices”, but it did not take long before a competent seafarer settled into the routine of a new ship.
But that was then and this is now, and ships are more specialised and infinitely more sophisticated, with the value of the crew being in its particular expertise in that distinctive type of ship, or trade, or machinery specification. It is becoming harder all the time for a crewing department to function, with mandatory requirements that demand familiarity of operators with their ship’s equipment, such as the ship specific training required with electronic charts, for instance. Generic skills are insufficient.
Experience is one of the drivers of efficiency, backed up by training and qualifications, but life is made even harder by the insistence of charterers on specific levels of experience for every post on board. Traditional hierarchies, where junior officers gradually progressed to more senior ranks are deemed insufficient and such charterers will insist that all officers have a certain amount of experience in that particular rank.
The obvious question must be how these officers are to ever progress in such a rigid and inflexible arrangement? How will a junior officer ever find a job in the first place, if every post requires experience in that rank? It is an issue that features frequently in correspondence about manning, and the difficulties cadets suffer when, despite their qualifications, they find their lack of experience a real handicap. Once, a charterer attempting to impose such conditions would have been smartly told that the employment of the master and crew was the responsibility of the owner. This, in some sectors, would appear to be no longer the case.
Another contemporary problem caused by intense specialisation is the difficulties people encounter when wishing to move from one type of ship to another. There may be some availability of courses in such subjects as tanker safety, or similar endorsements for chemical or gas ship officers, or special qualifications in dynamic positioning which can be obtained, but there is a limit to the amount of specialist training anyone can afford, or indeed take in!
The offshore sector is an example of an increasingly specialised area, with a bewildering array of sophisticated ships all demanding specialists to operate them. Will they have berths available for people “in training” additional to the normal complement? Will charterers, so specific about their requirements for the right “skill set” aboard (backed up with the verifiable experience, of course) tolerate these trainees? Ship managers often complain about this lack of berths, with the attitude being that providing a route to obtain necessary experience, is invariably cited as “somebody else’s problem”. It is a short-sighted attitude that in the long run does nobody any favours. Sooner or later, everything will grind to a halt, because, quite simply, the necessary experience will not be available!