This article was originally written for Superyacht Technology News in 2017 when we were working as a recruitment agency under our former name Just ETOs.  Updated for republishing here, the points remain very valid.

The superyacht industry often talks about ETO or AV/IT Engineer shortages.  It appears there are not enough experienced crew to manage the growing amount of technology in the industry.  But is this really the case?  Is there really an “ETO” shortage?

Well, let’s start off by considering the correct definition of ETO in the marine world:

Correct ETO Terminology: 

Strictly speaking, in the marine world an ETO is a marine electronics specialist.  Nothing to do with AV/IT at all.  The term ETO has become misused in yachting, to cover all electronics disciplines.

STCW now dictates an ETO must also hold a Certificate of Competency under STCW2010 regulation III/6.  However, this is only mandatory on the largest and most electrically-complex yachts, or if your job title is “ETO”. 

(See paragraph 1.5 of MSN 1860 from the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency.)

Therefore, many yachts have been correctly moving away from the ETO job title.

Using the ETO term correctly, as indicated above, we believe there is no shortage of such crew.

Consider the downturn in the oil and gas industry in recent years.  This led to increased availability of ETOs with a CoC.  But this didn’t help the deemed shortage of electronics crew in yachting much at all.  Why?

This is because ETOs from other marine sectors are generally best suited to the largest yachts initially.  On yachts over 100 metres in length, there is usually a dedicated AV/IT engineer.  These systems are crucial to the owner or guest experience.  Largely, these systems are also unique to yachts.

On yachts under 100 metres in length, there is often no cabin space for both an ETO and AV/IT specialist.  So. without yacht AV/IT systems experience, it is more difficult for an ETO to enter yachting on this size of vessel.


The real shortage – AV and IT Skills

What we have a shortage of is crew with experience of yacht AV/IT systems.  Especially systems that are unique to the sector.  This is where we have a severe and growing shortage.

We’re not just talking dedicated specialists, or electronics engineers that also cover the AV/IT systems.  It is more a skills shortage than a people shortage.  The smaller the yacht, the more likely it is any crew member deemed “most suitable” find themselves responsible for the vessel’s technology.

Most yachts naturally want crew with good experience of the systems that are crucial to delivering the “yachting experience”.  For example, consider the high-end AV systems so heavily integrated into yacht interiors.  These systems, such as Crestron and Kaleidescape, rarely exist in other marine sectors.  So, candidates with the ideal experience are difficult to find outside of yachting.

As someone once said “You can’t get the job without the experience.  But how can you get experience without the job?!”

Electronics recruitment: expectations versus reality

Satisfying a yacht’s requirements for electronics crew is very difficult in the current market. Too often, employer requirements are unrealistic.  There almost always has to be a compromise when choosing a candidate.

But what clients are usually least willing to compromise on is experience levels.  This is understandable, no owner or guest should have to lower their expectation levels on-board!  However, the market is unlikely to produce perfect matches for an employer’s unrealistic vacancy requirements.

For candidates with good yacht AV/IT experience, the industry is a great place to be.  These skills are in high demand.  So, those with the experience are seeing stronger employment packages.  This is simple “supply and demand”.

But paying more to attract the best does not solve the skills shortage.  The experienced few remain spread as thinly as ever.  When a crew member leaves one yacht to benefit another, the other vessel loses out.  The industry gains nothing and the skills shortage continues.

The cold truth is that all recruiters are struggling to find suitable electronics candidates to match client requirements.

What can be done?

Through open-mindedness and flexibility, recruiters and their clients can better work together to understand and address these challenges.  We must think outside the box.  There is no magic short-term fix.

Open dialogue with experienced and ethical recruiters is a good place to start.  Better still, a recruiter with a true understanding of the requirements for your specialist roles.  Through developing such a relationship, you’re one step ahead when the next challenging vacancy arises.

Clients must also consider candidates from outside of yachting more.  A good recruiter should be able to produce candidates from other sectors.  Recruiters should also be able to recommend the correct training to complement such candidates.  Candidate skills gaps are also be helped through longer handover periods and the right shore-side support.

Yes, all of this costs money.  However, too often the true value of spending is not considered.  This can lead to false economies, such as inexperienced crew looking after multi-million dollar systems.

Consumer technology is a truly dynamic market.  One that is most certainly not slowing down.  We need to work harder to keep up, or we fall further behind.  With the high standards that yachting commands, we cannot allow this to happen.

Above all, we all need to understand the market and its unique challenges better.  This helps us to see the big picture, and move forward with an open mind.