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You want to work Shoreside? An interview with Phil Parry, Chairman of Spinnaker Consulting!


  • Thinking about moving ashore? We talk to Phil Parry, Chairman of Spinnaker Consulting about recruitment.

    Thinking about moving ashore? We talk to Phil Parry, Chairman of Spinnaker Consulting, about recruitment.

    Phil Parry has over 20 years experience in the shipping industry. He co-founded the industry’s leading recruitment company Spinnaker Consulting Ltd in 1997 and is Spinnaker’s Chairman. The company has recruited thousands of shipping professionals in 40 countries, including the Chief Executives of many major shipping and trading companies and industry bodies.

    Phil is widely acknowledged as an expert in maritime HR and benchmarking issues and was the founder of the Maritime HR Forum, the global shipping industry’s major source of compensation and benefits data.

    He is a maritime lawyer and practised law with maritime law firm Ince & Co where he specialised in shipping and insurance law. He holds a Maritime Business & Law degree and has been Chairman of the Plymouth Nautical Degree Association. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Business by Plymouth University in 2012. You can follow Phil on Twitter @shippingjobs_

    What first interested you in the Maritime Field?

    Fish! I grew up by the sea and was obsessed with fishing and fish keeping. So much so that when I was 18 I went to Plymouth University to study fisheries. It turned out to be not such a good idea but as I was within the marine department it was easy enough to transfer across to do a shipping degree, so I ended up with a degree in Maritime Business and Law, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

    During my university vacations I was able to get a job with a ship broking firm in London thanks to a friend’s friend’s father. This was my first exposure to the real world of shipping business and I was hooked. I went on to Law school and qualified as a solicitor, ending up working in London again, this time for maritime law firm Ince and Co.

    After a few years practising law, I left to set up Spinnaker Consulting along with our MD Steve Cox, as the first dedicated shore based maritime recruiter.

    In your opinion, what personal qualities do you think a person would need to work at sea?

    I am constantly in awe of people who go to sea, especially nowadays. Whilst the retired seafarers I talk to use to go to sea for extremely long periods of time, they at least got to spend quality time ashore and were able to get some form of rest and relaxation. Seafarers nowadays work to such tight schedules, turnaround times and under such regulatory pressure, that such things are a dreamed of luxury. So what qualities do you need? Resilience. Patience. The ability to enjoy your own company and withstand isolation. But, having said all of that, I think you also need a sense of adventure and self-assurance – seafarers are a remarkably capable bunch.

    When it comes to advertising for junior roles/ranks, roughly how many applications do you receive?

    Spinnaker only handles shore-based recruitment. However I am also a trustee of the Maritime London Officer Cadet Scholarship. In that respect, we do not suffer any lack of interest. The number of applications for shore-based roles varies enormously. Junior roles tend to be on the commercial side of the business – ship broking, operations and so on. By definition, most seafarers coming ashore are applying for jobs that require senior officer experience.

    It is certainly true that there are more applications for junior roles than management roles, and it is sometimes necessary to spend a lot of time sifting out those who have no relevant experience whatsoever or who lack the necessary visas and working permits. This is simply part of the modern world where the internet enables people globally to apply for roles that we are simply unable to consider them for.

    Given the free availability of personnel on sites like linked in, what value do employers find by using a recruitment agency?

    A quote that I have probably over-used in the last two or three years is from a report written by The Economist: “In the modern world of work, unemployment is high yet skills and experience are in short supply.” In other words, whilst there are plenty of “people” available, employers in all industries increasingly find it tough to source people of calibre and/or with the skills and experience that they require.

    Decades of under-investment in training and short term influences such as the recent recession, conspire to produce shortages. Most employers recognise nowadays that sourcing talented people with the right skills is the key to making their business successful and to growing it. Good recruitment consultants, who are usually specialists in a narrow field, therefore add real value to employers. In short, they specialise in sourcing scarce resources and promoting their employer clients to gain the interest of those people. They also allow their clients to get on with their day jobs. It takes a huge amount of time to sift through the millions of names on LinkedIn and then contact them, get them interested in a role, shortlist them, interview them and select one of them for a job. As with most jobs, the iceberg analogy works well with recruitment. A huge amount of time and effort goes into attracting candidates, preliminary interviewing them, storing their details in a searchable fashion, finding them and allocating them to appropriate vacancies, contacting them, assessing their suitability, getting them interested, shortlisting them for clients, explaining their suitability to clients and then assisting with offer negotiations and holding their hand through resignation to a successful start in their new role. What you see above the surface is the receipt of a few CVs and a job offer.

    How often are people who have declared their availability actually prepared to move jobs when offered a new position?

    This is a good question. Part of the recruiter’s role is to work out who the tyre-kickers are and which people are truly motivated to find a new position. We are wary of people who are moving jobs just for the money; often these are the people who are most susceptible to a counter-offer from their existing employer when they hand in their resignation. People who move jobs usually do so for a more deep-seated reason such as lack of career progression, lack of training, not getting on with their boss or colleagues or simply finding the new position on offer more interesting, more challenging and so on.

    The number of job offers turned down varies with the economic cycle. Our prediction for 2014 is that increasing confidence in the economy will encourage more people to change jobs- during the recession, many people adopted the principal “better the devil you know” and stuck with jobs they knew to be secure even if they were not terribly happy.

    If you could define the most employable Deck / Engine officer, what age, certificates, experience / background would they have?

    Ever since Spinnaker was established in 1997, the typical profiles sought by employers are master mariners with command experience and chief engineers. We have generally found that cruise and passenger experience is less valued by employers seeking to fill shore-based positions than any type of cargo experience. Nowadays, of course, OSV and LNG experience are in great demand.

    On the whole, employers look for people who are young enough to have a full second career ashore. The rationale is that there is time for them to be trained and to learn and that they are not too set in their ways to adopt shore-based management styles and to fit in with the employer’s succession plan and talent pipeline.

    The rapid growth in the world fleet and the shortage of senior officers available for shore-based positions means that the profile employers are looking for is increasingly hard to find. Additionally, increased HSEQ and regulatory pressures have caused a surge in demand for master mariners in recent years. As a result we have seen their shore-based salaries catch up with those of engineers whereas previously they lagged behind.

    Some employers have already started to respond to the supply-demand imbalance by introducing training programmes for junior officers and engineering/naval architecture graduates, the intention is being to grow their own superintendents in-house. There are not any uniform standards within the industry but we do expect to see this trend continue and would not be surprised to see the introduction of some form of qualification or quality steps in due course.

    Why are the proposed packages so top secret?

    Are they? It’s certainly true that historically the industry has been secretive and unwilling to share information. However, Spinnaker are the secretariat of an association called the Maritime HR Forum. There are seventy shipping employer members who share salary, bonus and benefit information with each other to produce reliable industry bench marks. The typical salary for superintendents in the UK is £55-65,000, in the US $110-140,000 and in Singapore SGD110-150,000.

    Bonuses vary widely but Shipmanagement positions generally pay anywhere between 0-30% depending upon the market sector, the state of the economy and of course the performance of the individual company.

    Why are clients’ identities so secret?

    Clients are often unwilling to be named in recruitment adverts because they do not want to be bombarded by, and have to deal with the administrative burden of, large numbers of unsuitable applicants. However, unless the employer has a particular reason for asking not to be named such as internal sensitivities, a recruitment consultant should always disclose the identity of their client before submitting your CV. There are recruiters who do not do this and our advice to you is to not deal with them. At Spinnaker, apart from those very rare cases where an employer has specifically asked us to request applicant’s permission to send them without knowing the employer identity, we always name our clients, explain as much as we can about their business and the vacancy and obtain our candidates’ express permission to submit their CV. This is in fact a legal requirement.

    As many marine recruiters are offering the same positions why does there appear to be discrepancies in what the package on offer is (for the same position)

    This is another good question. Sometimes, employers can be their own worst enemy. Recruitment consultants are trained to “qualify” clients and vacancies very carefully. That is, they are taught to find out the fullest possible information about a role and the package on offer to enable them to properly explain it to candidates and of course to understand if this is a role they are capable of filling. Some employers are excellent at getting the best out of their recruitment consultants and they treat them as partners, giving them as much information and assistance as possible to help them find the right candidates. Others do not and some even give recruiters conflicting information.

    In situations where different recruitment consultants have actually been given the same information and where that information is limited, it will be down to the integrity of the individual consultant as to whether or not they mislead you. As with any service provider, it comes down to the culture of the organisation and, its ethics and the personality of the individual you are dealing with. Spinnaker’s mission statement is “Tenacious recruitment with integrity” we try our hardest to instill an ethical approach in all of our consultants and we go out of our way not to hire people from the wider recruitment industry but to train our own people in-house. We regard ourselves as a part of the shipping industry rather than as part of the recruitment industry. This may not sound like much but to us this is a crucial distinction. We are extremely proud of our reputation and as the founder of the business (and a shipping anorak to boot) I take it extremely personally. In short, if a recruiter does not have full details about the package on offer they should say so.

    How come you don't respond back to those who are unsuccessful? (a holding or standard message?)

    I hope we do. As any employer or recruitment consultancy does, we do receive a large volume of applications and the time it takes to progress a vacancy varies widely; some are filled within a few days whereas others do take as much as a year depending upon the difficulty of the role and the speed at which it is dealt with at the client end. In either case, we should be notifying applicants when we know what is happening. Sometimes, there is radio silence simply because we know nothing more than the last time we got in touch, but one of the things we teach our staff is that anyone who hears nothing assumes nothing is happening and assumes the worst of you.

    Spinnaker now employs 40 staff including a significant team of associate consultants. Part of their role is candidate management and this includes sending out a message at the very least at the close of a role to update applicants on what has happened. It troubles me when we drop the ball in this respect. We shouldn’t and I hope it doesn’t happen often.

    What is the job market like within the maritime field at the moment?

    The job market is pretty buoyant and has been since about Easter 2012. The recession did hit the market quite hard in 2009 and again for about 6 months from October 2011. Shipping is not a single homogenous market of course, so there are pockets that are doing better than others at present. I have already mentioned the offshore market and LNG, both of which are crying out for talent. The commercial market is also doing very well at the moment as business confidence is encouraging more employers to invest in the growth of their teams and in succession planning at senior levels.

    Albeit for understandable reasons there was an underinvestment in junior broking and chartering staff in the first two or three years of the recession and quite a lot of junior staff were laid off. Now that the market is in expansion mode again, those with a few years’ experience are highly sought after.

    Not surprisingly, the market remains strong throughout the recession and is stronger still today for seafarers coming ashore. In short, it takes more time to build a senior officer/superintendent than it does to build ships and the rate of world fleet growth has therefore outstripped labour supply.

    • HolyNougat
      HolyNougat commented
      Editing a comment
      Thanks for interesting insight.

    • SeaGazer
      SeaGazer commented
      Editing a comment
      One thing I have noticed is that when people are talking about moving ashore there's always the talk of it's easier for engineers than deckies and so on. Nobody ever mentions that jobs (or careers as some call them) are not the end all and be all. With the potential to accumulate a decent amount of capital in a relatively short period of time people working at sea are in a better position than most to set up their own business ashore.

    • YoungMariner
      YoungMariner commented
      Editing a comment
      And many people do seagazer. But it takes a certain mindset for that, a lot of self motivation.
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