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This article follows on from our previous article AV/IT Skills Shortage Part 1 and was originally written for Superyacht Technology News in October 2017.  Slightly updated for republishing, the points raised in the article remain very valid.

In Part 2, we now focus more on the subject of crew recruitment.  We also explore how our company set out to address the problems highlighted in Part 1.

A short history of Superyacht Electronics Academy

Working onboard a superyacht in 2013, SEA’s founder Scott Molloy continued to witness an industry electronics skills shortage. This began the thought process that became Just ETOs Ltd, the first dedicated marine electronics recruitment service. To support its recruitment services, the company began to develop ideal training courses for crew.  Eventually, the business evolved to fully focus on training under a new brand, Superyacht Electronics Academy.  

A case for giving someone a chance: Just ETOs’ 1st placement

A 100-metre yacht was struggling to find candidates with very specific qualifications and experience.  As the requirements and package were non-negotiable, Scott suggested the client should compromise on the candidate’s experience level.  After an extensive search, a candidate from another marine sector stood out. The vessel gave him a chance.  This candidate quickly picked up the yacht-specific system skills, and returned the faith shown in him.  The vessel was very happy with him.  At the time of publishing this article, 5 years later, he is still there.

We had trouble finding suitable candidates for our ETO vacancy.  We were made aware of Just ETOs by a contractor, and the agency quickly made a suitable recommendation.  We were impressed by their unique service, communication level and the dedicated approach to our request.  Stuart has been with us over 30 months now, he is a good guy and solid ETO.  It was his first yacht, joining us from BP.  Yet he quickly adapted to life on a superyacht and supporting the systems that were new to him.

Alexander Whitty. Captain, 100-metre yacht

Whilst working away on a new build yacht, Scott then learned he was going to be a father for this first time.  He explains that this seems to have been the catalyst for the business progressing. “I needed to be home more often.  After exploring different options, I decided to put everything into Just ETOs.  After some time, I still hadn’t fallen out of love with the idea.  There were promising signs for the business model,”  he said.  So, Scott gave up his career onboard yachts to form Just ETOs.

In the first few months, Scott used his industry knowledge and experience to help with several successful placements.  He found candidates and clients liked his approach and experience. “Clients found it refreshing to talk with a recruiter who properly understood the technology and skills requirements.”

A success story?

This is no fairy tale.  Setting up a new recruitment service was no fix for the skills shortage.  Client requirements remained difficult to match to suitable and available candidates.  As detailed in Part 1, it was often difficult to utilise candidates from other sectors.  Because there are two tough obstacles for electronics candidates looking for their first job on a yacht.

First Yacht Job: Obstacle 1

To be given the chance to work on a yacht for the first time, when the client prefers previous yachting experience.

When we were recruiting as Just ETOs, we strongly believed in giving people a chance.  A step up.  However, clients generally prefer experience over the potential loyalty and longevity of a less experienced candidate.  But in all the placements where we’ve seen someone given a chance, they more than proved themselves.

First Yacht Job: Obstacle 2

Experience of yacht systems, especially technology that is unique to yachts.

The systems most likely to be new to a candidate from outside of yachting are the audio-visual systems.  These are crucial to the guest experience onboard.  Yet, in the marine world, these high-end bespoke systems are pretty unique to superyachts.   So, how can a candidate ever gain this experience prior to their first yacht job?  There is also a lack of suitable training courses accessible to yacht crew.  So it is really a vicious circle trying to obtain these key skills.

Yacht Entertainment Systems training course

This led us to develop a new audio-visual systems training course for superyacht crew.  Originally called Yacht Entertainment Systems (YES), the class is now called AV@SEA.  It was part of our company’s old recruitment strategy for addressing the skills shortage.  We were focused on bringing fresh blood into the sector, and providing the key training they needed.

As well as helping electronics engineers looking to start a yachting career, it also helped crew already working on all sizes of superyachts. The course received a lot of bookings from engineers on yachts under 65m in length.  Because on this size vessel, there often isn’t a dedicated electronics engineer.  Never mind a dedicated AV/IT engineer.  Responsibility for AV/IT systems will fall to a mechanical engineer, or some other crew member.

Our AV class helps the skills shortage by teaching tasks and knowledge needed to operate the most common AV/control system equipment. The course also includes certification from the biggest manufacturer of yacht AV/control systems, Crestron.

Recruitment: Back to Basics

Scott also believes that in order to distribute these skills as effectively as possible, the industry needs to get back to basics with recruitment.

“I knew the good and bad points of different agencies from my time as a crew member. I endeavoured to set up exactly what the industry believes a recruitment agency should be.  For example, proper vetting of candidates and making informed recommendations to clients. Not just simply forwarding CVs for the busy vessel to do all the decision making.  I also believe very strongly in the value of open dialogue.  Too often now, everything occurs in one-way communications such as email or instant messaging.  To better address the tech skills shortage, we need to understand the client’s requirements thoroughly.  And begin to build a relationship off course.  So we would try to start things off with at least a phone or video call.”

Ethical Recruitment

Recruitment can often seem very cut-throat. However, done right, recruiters can operate ethically and still get results. This not only benefits candidates and clients, but the industry as a whole.

Scott says  “I think of ethical recruitment as two things.  Firstly, operating within the laws in place to protect seafarers.  For us, this meant UK employment law and the Maritime and Labour Convention 2006.  Secondly, never forgetting that we are dealing with people.  Not a product on a shelf, but people’s livelihoods and time away from home.  In a competitive market, some recruitment services are cutting corners, operating unethically, even breaking the law.  But in the end, such practices don’t benefit the industry.”

As mentioned in Part 1, Just ETOs never “headhunted” to meet challenging client requirements. As a recruiter, we strived to build relationships with clients.  Companies cannot build relationships with vessels they are poaching crew from.  Also, if the same experienced candidates are being cycled around the industry, there is less chance for others to enter it.  And if new blood isn’t allowed to enter the industry, how is there eve going to be sufficient candidates for roles?  We need to break this vicious circle.  But how? We simply need to allow new blood to be injected into the industry, and invest more in crew training.  It sounds simple, yet as a whole, the industry is still not doing it.

Year after year we, the industry collective, continue to complain about not being able to find the right people.  Yet, there are good options out there.  They just need to be given a chance.  The exponentially increasing skills AV and IT skills shortage in yachting needs a change of mindset.  We must simply give people a chance, and invest in their training.

Click to read Part 1