Attracting and holding on to the best employees

Attraction and retention of competent employees is a key challenge for any organisation and thereby it has also become a focus point for most businesses. Attracting competent employees with the right mindset can be a struggle also in the maritime business, and besides, poor retention has a very high price. A thorough hiring process is time consuming, the onboarding processes of getting people fit for the job are as well, and losing valuable employees means losing important knowledge and culture ambassadors.

Traditionally, many shipping companies have found it difficult to identify other attraction and retention tools than salary raises, but researches and experience show that many other considerations are important when it comes to attracting and retaining valuable seafarers.

Factors like job satisfaction, the feeling of performing an important job, and being part of something exciting, as well as the opportunity to grow both professionally and personally are all important values for today’s seafarers. A company that successfully meets these needs and expectations from their seamen will often win the battle over companies competing only on salary. Therefore, a well-prepared and maintained attraction and retention strategy/process addressing many work-life aspects is of paramount importance and should be regarded as a core business element.

A company that successfully meets the needs and expectations from their seamen will often win the battle over companies competing only on salary

Key factors in an attraction and retention strategy

Look at some of the research carried out within this field of work a number of key factors have been identified. The following four key factors are often mentioned: company brand, company mission,  career prospects, and company culture.

We will try to elaborate on these four factors, not excluding that there are more important factors in employee attraction and retention problematics.

The company brand

The brand of the company is essential both to attract new competent employees ashore or at sea, but it certainly also matters in connection with the retention of the same. An employee’s affiliation with a company holding a strong brand is an important factor for new as well as existing employees. For interested ‘outsiders’ it signals the opportunity of personal opportunities. The ability to perform inspirational leadership is furthermore significant for the company image, as seafarers of today are looking for work lives with an opportunity to grow. In order to nurture the company image, both externally and inside the company, management must be visible and impart important information and communication, such as;

News from the management
The vision and the policies of the company
The business efforts achieved
The company strengths and attainments
Company achievements
An employee’s affiliation with a company holding a strong brand signals the opportunity of personal advancement

The company mission

The company mission is an integral part of creating a strong company brand. Creating a clear link between the overall mission and the various job functions are of course important to create the feeling of being important as an employee.

To be working for a company that are serving a purpose reaching further than generating profit has shown to be of value for seafarers as well. A company with a strategy focusing on corporate social responsibility and actively supporting vulnerable groups is considered to be very attractive to be related to, and a seafarer coming from e.g. a third world country will see the company as more than just a profit maker, but also as an entity who cares for others.

The company could for instance be engaged in social activities in crew supplying countries, charity work, or other CSR commitments in environments related to the business. If possible, the company should therefore be giving a broader impression of its operations, or initiate new engagement projects, for example;

Provide a clear focus on country-specific activities
Initiate local and social engagement projects
Communicate towards the seafarer to show that he is important for ensuring the company mission

Guiding missions and motivating values can have a good impact in relation to attracting valuable sea and shore employees, however also in the perspective of retention, as it can provide clear direction and purpose – if lived by! Otherwise, it can hit like a boomerang, but that is another story worth its own chapter.

Career prospects

The prospects of the shore staff and seafarers for professional and personal development are, not surprisingly, an important attraction and retention factor. They must be able to see valuable prospects in being employed by the company. Establishment of a clear career plan is therefore needed and the seafarer, as well as the shore staff, should feel at all times that his or her career is being managed – “from cradle to grave”. It should be clear what career opportunities the company can offer and it should be clearly communicated how he/she can qualify for future advancement.

To support this process, it is important to manage activities stipulated below and just as important to make the career plan and opportunities clear to the employee;

Competence and Career Management
Visible promotion ladder
Training and competence development plans and activities
Empowerment and involvement in company development processes
Management- and leadership training
On-going communication of opportunities and development possibilities
Professional Training
The shore staff and seafarers must be able to see valuable prospects in being employed by the company

The company culture

The actual culture of the company is vital, especially regarding the retention rate, as the culture defines the lived life in the company. The story of the company communicated in the company brand, missions and values must, therefore, be authentic!

As expressed earlier, the corporate culture should build a company employee connectivity through the communication of motivational vision and purpose, the establishment of development opportunities, and by providing a fair and reliable culture. Ensuring strong teamwork is also a key factor in job satisfaction. In this respect it is extremely important to have good leaders who understand the importance of this and that they are capable of driving this on a daily basis.

The company HR should also support the process of ensuring this goal by showing that the company:

Keeps what it promises and show they care
Is transparent – at all levels
Cares about employee growth by communicating career stories
Strives to ensure on-going communication with the sea as well as shore staff
Acts on the basis of employee surveys
Appreciates employee efforts
Has a personalised communication style
Acts by its values and are committed to embedding these values among all employees

Another way of creating a closer association between the company and especially the seafarer is the establishment of permanent employment instead of a limited contract period. The industry is used to having a limited contract period relationship with their officers and staff and thereby it can be difficult to retain and nurse highly valued seafarers during long home periods. This may have the result that the seafarers have offered their services to other companies during home periods. Utilising the effective social media channels is also an evident opportunity to keep the seafarer closer to the company.

Keeping the promises and utilising online communication as a driver

Where the company image, mission, and career prospects can create great promises, it is critical, as highlighted before, that the company culture meets the promises seen in a retention perspective. Said in another way it is essential to ensure coherence between the image of the company and the reality shown in the culture of the company. Promising too much will indeed produce an untrustworthy presentation of the company, which in the end could result in a damaged image, loss of appeal to potential new staff, and a high and costly retention rate.

As a tool to establish attention within the four attraction and retention factors described in this paper, an online communication vehicle has proven to be very useful for many companies. It gives the perfect opportunity – if managed properly – to create a closer and more efficient communication with potential as well as current employees.

And it opens up for the possibility of establishing the feeling of commitment and engagement. Also, it proves to be beneficial in relation to providing professional and personal development via courses and training.

Key takeaways


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Stine Skelbo
Stine Skelbo
Senior Consultant

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