Shrinking pool of port talent

The supply of proven port executives is drying up. Credit: Off beat Mum The supply of proven port executives is drying up. Credit: Off beat Mum

Successive years of hammering home the crewing ‘crisis’ message have firmly ingrained the matter on our minds: red alert, a dearth of qualified seafarers is about to bring the industry to its knees. However, that record has been re-played for at least the last two decades and the anticipated crisis has yet to materialise.

But there is a more pressing employment crisis in our very own backyard, if recruitment specialists are to be believed. With the growth of terminals coming on a pace, there is a demand for C-level executives with a proven track record in bringing start-ups to life. However, by definition this is a very select pool of individuals and these individuals can only be stretched so far.

Years ago, the industry would have handled CVs with regular eighteen month hops to pastures new with extreme caution: ‘a lack of commitment’... ‘ambition over loyalty’... ‘chasing the buck rather than the ambitions of the job’. Yet now, browse some port chief executive profiles and eighteen months could be considered a long term commitment as these sought after individuals jump from one top hot seat to the next to bring terminals up to speed in a matter of months rather than years.

Many are very successful, so perhaps I shouldn’t knock their career drivers. However, the whole exercise demonstrates how very reliant we are as an industry on an elite group of port positioning gurus.

With global container port throughput expected to grow by an average of around 7.5% a year over the next six years, how are we going to find the top brass to steer these terminals on the right course?

A specialist recruitment head-hunter recently confirmed to me that we are facing a challenge. It is already difficult to find the right people for positions that can often be in inhospitable environments, expecting them to uproot family and move lock, stock to a new country and culture.

And if we can find enough of these magic-makers, is the industry willing to pay for their worth? In a word, no, my recruitment colleague tells me. This is simple economics: the pot of suitable candidates contracts, the salary they can command goes up.

Port authorities and global operators need to wise up to the fact that not only is it becoming increasingly difficult to source talent – with no sign of improvement any time soon – but they will need to dig deeper if they want to win over that talent before another operator sweeps them off the available list.

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