Posted on 4 August 2017 by Phil Parry

This week Phil Parry, Chairman of global maritime HR and recruitment consultancy Spinnaker Global, gives his view on what seafarers need to know when they’re thinking of making a move ashore.

In the last 20 years since setting up Spinnaker Global as a shore-side recruitment specialist and HR consultancy, I’ve been asked this question hundreds of times and given probably just as many different answers.  Everyone is different, but there are some recurring themes, and employers generally look for similar things.

First, some practical advice from a middle-aged parent: be very aware now that when you come ashore you will almost certainly be moving from a tax-free income to a taxed income at the same time as taking a pay cut.  In the UK (the numbers are similar in many European countries given the effect of both income tax and National Insurance contributions) a gross salary of £100,000 will give you a net income of around £65,800 or £5,500 monthly.  A gross salary of £50,000 will give you a net income of around £36,800 or £3,065 monthly.  So, if you’ve been earning £65,800 or £36,800 a year at sea, you now need £100,000 or £50,000 ashore to enjoy the same take-home pay.

There are many career options for seafarers coming ashore.  They don’t all pay the same, but a fairly common wage for Master Mariners and Chief Engineers in first jobs ashore is around £55-65,000 in the UK, SGD100,000-140,000 in Singapore and USD90,000-110,000 in the United States.

The key message therefore is to try to make the best use of your money whilst at sea – save it, use tax-efficient investment options such as ISAs in the UK (this is so easy to do online and so worthwhile that I think it’s criminal that this stuff isn’t taught in schools), or get on the property ladder.  If you get a mortgage sorted while your tax-free earnings are higher, you’ll probably manage to get a bigger mortgage than when you come ashore and take a pay cut (although it will still need repaying!).

Personal hobby-horse dispatched, let’s move on to some career advice.  There’s no room in this article for CV advice.  That’s for a future piece, but you can certainly take a look here for some input on putting a CV together.

You’ve probably been told to stay at sea and get your Master’s or Chief Engineer’s ticket and some command or C/E experience before coming ashore.  There are many who’ve gone before you who’ve done a single trip in command so they can wear the t-shirt.

Broadly speaking, this is still relevant advice, especially for those who wish to move into fleet management / superintendency or into marine and engineering consultancies.  Even though it is my strong view that Command or Chief Engineer experience is not (always) necessary for these roles, the simple truth is that many disagree with me and there is a ‘credibility requirement’.  In other words, you’ll be taken more seriously if you’ve been there and done it.

The trouble with this is that it has perpetuated an experience-based recruitment tradition within shipping rather than a system which focuses on hiring the right people with the right personal skillsets for the job.  Things are changing however, and leadership and management development support is becoming more widespread.

Pausing on this point for a moment, if I were at sea today and thinking about personal development, I would invest some of my time developing my management skills.  The single most common complaint levelled against former seafarers ashore is a lack of or poor management skills.  Becoming an officer and gaining sea-time leadership positions does not necessarily equip one for a management job ashore.  The place to start is self-awareness – understanding your own personality, your strengths and how you come across to others can be achieved through asking those around you (colleagues, bosses, friends and family) and being willing to listen to what you’re being told.  Equally, personality profiling is a great place to start and an independent way to be able to describe yourself to potential employers and of course a self-development starting point.  If you or your employer are willing to invest, there are leadership development programmes available.  We run them but, as they say on the BBC, other products are available!  We are in fact exploring with a partner the development of an app for seafarers to gain feedback throughout their careers enabling the build-up of a personal profile and, hopefully, evidence of progress over time.

Personal skills development aside, many seafarers ask what knowledge acquisition would be helpful.  This is a difficult one because it does very much depend on how you see your career ashore.   Where are you strong – written skills, intellect, people skills, technically strong?  Do you see yourself in law or insurance, fleet management, commercial shipping, operations?  Do you see yourself sitting in an office or would that drive you mad?  Will you need a physical hands-on job?  Are you the focused single-minded expert type (are you a nerd)?  Knowing your personality, will you be good at winning clients and business development?  Only you can answer these questions, but do try to answer them.  If you can articulate this stuff to people like the recruitment staff at Spinnaker Global and to potential employers, we and they can guide you so much more helpfully.

It’s fair to say though, that certain types of job will be much easier to get if you have a degree: law firms, insurers and marine & engineering consultancies are very keen on degree-qualified seafarers.  The main reason is that they are looking for evidence of research and writing skills.  Will they hire candidates without them?  Yes, occasionally, but it’s far easier if you have one.

If you have a degree, is it worth getting a Masters degree?  We’re asked this all the time and they are more and more popular.  Whilst there are some employers who have a particular penchant for Masters degrees (banks and financial institutions in particular), most of the time, they are of use for demonstrating commitment and interest in a particular avenue.  Clearly, the knowledge gained is valuable (or possibly invaluable!) but rarely do employers specifically request a masters degree.  LLMs (Masters in Law) is obviously helpful if you’re thinking of a legal or P&I career, but you may be surprised to hear that they are far from required and many get hired without them.

Two routes I would definitely consider are the examinations of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers and if you’re specifically thinking about a career in insurance, the Chartered Insurance Institute.  Don’t be misled by the name of the ICS – it’s not all about shipbroking.  The ICS qualification covers as much as many shipping degrees and will give you a broad education in maritime law, commerce, insurance, agency, port & terminal management and so on, dependent upon the options you choose.

Hmm, I’ve run out of space and there’s so much more I want to say.  I think another article or two is in order.

Phil Parry, Chairman, Spinnaker Global