The Retention of Ship Officers and its Benefits in the Maritime Industry

1. Introduction

This dissertation provides a comprehensive analysis of the factors that affect ship officers’ retention in the maritime industry, strategies for retaining officers, and the benefits that can be expected from effective retention, both for the officers themselves and the industry as a whole. It explores and assesses the research findings and the opinions of maritime professionals and expert bodies. It is intended to be a valuable source of reference for ship management companies and future researchers, and it may provide some helpful guidelines for onboard and shore-based managers. In the following subsections, an overview of the background to the research, the research objectives, and the significance of the study are explained. Although motivation for the research should emerge here, care should be taken not to launch into a review of the literature. Such materials should be saved for a separate literature review chapter. Supporting references should be given in a balanced and objective manner. You should not destroy the research at this early stage. Preempting the outcomes and findings of the research should be avoided. This is the first opportunity, at a relatively early stage in the coursework, for students to demonstrate their ability to develop and structure an extended piece of substantive research. When they have finished their degrees and enter into their various workplaces, they again will be carrying a piece of work with a beginning and an end, although it might be within a group project. So learning to be independent now, learning to develop an argument over a sustained piece of work, its consequences, and its substantive findings would be important at this stage. But what we find with students at this level, they are too ready to get on with things like the literature review and say, well, this bit should come here or this bit should come there. It’s very important at the beginning for students to internalize the research that we do, so that as far as possible it becomes part of their own research project rather than an exercise in deciding where different bits should be shifted to make it make sense.

1.1 Background

Originally, ships used to be very small with a limited crew. Today’s ships that trade globally have doubled and tripled in size. This means the number of crew needed to run the vessels has increased significantly. Ship officers assume a variety of duties and responsibilities. They are responsible for the vessel, the accomplishment of the mission, the welfare of the crew, and the safe and efficient operation of the ship. The marine industry seems to be healthy, prosperous, and it is a vital part of the global economy. But in a closer look, it is evident that the industry is struggling to keep the ship officers’ retention at a level that can satisfy the needs. Additionally, high turnover rates further raise the costs of conducting shipboard training for new officers and the costs of providing benefits to officers. A loss of efficiency as new officers learn to work as a team will occur when experienced officers depart. It is reported in the industry that every year there has been a 6% to 8% of the officers left, and the industry witnesses high turnover rates. It is a well-known fact that the sea time experience is very important to the career development of an officer. However, many of the ship officers are hesitant to work in the marine industry because they cannot stand spending 8 to 9 months away from home and tolerate the tough and harsh working environment. Such tough working conditions plus the inconvenience of spending months away from home may upset many of the ship officers. High turnover rate also suggests that fewer officers choose to stay in the marine industry, and fewer people are willing to join in the industry as compared to the fast expansion of the global trading fleet. Then the industry could face a shortage of experienced, motivated officers in the long run. What’s more, the marine industry usually is very slow in making changes. It is pointed out that the marine industry has yet to understand that to keep the officers stay in the industry, there are many things that should be changed to improve the job satisfaction of the ship officers. For example, provide a better scheduling system and reduce the long sailing time. It is concluded that there is a clear correlation between the ship officers’ shortage and the turnover rate, and such fact should alert the marine authorities to look into measures so as to address the problem to ensure the sustainability of the industry.

1.2 Research Objectives

In recent years, the problem of retaining ship officers has become the hot topic in the maritime industry. In the context of a high rate of leaving from this profession, the research is to seek the reasons for the high turnover rate and alternative ways to retain officers. As an alternative to finding and training new officers and getting them familiar with the specific ship and working environment, retaining ship officers not only can solve the problem of lacking experienced officers but also can save the high cost of finding and training new officers. Also, experienced officers can provide professional knowledge and skills in enhancing the safety and efficiency in the operation of the ship, which is beneficial for both the company and the officers. The research involves the exploration of the factors affecting the retention of ship officers, strategies for retaining them, and the benefits of retaining ship officers in the maritime industry. The research will also focus on the current trends and challenges for retaining ship officers. To have a comprehensive understanding and a clear picture of the problem of lacking officers and how retaining officers can benefit the maritime industry, the research will go through different levels of study. At the lowest level of study, the research aims to identify the factors affecting the retention of ship officers. At the middle level, an analysis of the current trends and challenges for retaining ship officers will be carried out. As for the higher level of study, the research will focus on the outcome. By going through methodology and literature review, it is believed that the results and findings of the research will give a clear insight into the problem and the industry. The results of the research and the discussions afterwards not only provide a quantitative and qualitative overview of the ship officer retention rates, the factors influencing the retention in the maritime industry, and the analysis of strategies and benefits in ship officer retention, but also give solutions for high turnover rate. The findings of the research will also give an in-depth understanding of the current situation of lacking officers and how retaining officers can benefit the maritime industry, which is not mentioned specifically in the existing literature. Overall, the research will pave the way for practical strategies and shed light on the profound importance of effectively retaining ship officers in the maritime industry, particularly with the prosperous development of this industry in the future.

1.3 Significance of the Study

The research aims to understand the current trend and retention rates in the maritime industry around the world. It examines the importance of retaining ship officers and the principal reasons for high turnover among them. The study further analyzes the existing strategies and practices in keeping ship crew at a satisfactory level and the resulting benefits to the maritime industry. By identifying the main factors and challenges in ship officer retention, the findings of this research could be a useful reference for maritime companies and authorities to review and improve their current retention policies and practices. And that can eventually help to minimize the turnover of ship officers so as to ensure a sustainable and safe operation of the global maritime industry. The research will contribute to both academic and practical fields. In terms of academic input, the findings of this research will provide some valuable illustration to the abstract retention theories which could be an enrichment to the existing knowledge in employee retention area. On the other hand, this study will offer a professional analysis of ship officer retention in the practical context. It delivers a detailed picture of the current states and practices of ship officer retention in the global maritime industry and the findings could be a reference to maritime managers and human resource professionals in their strategic plannings in retention matters. Both qualitative and quantitative studies have been conducted in this research to collect and analyze first hand and comprehensive research data. A cross-sectional survey was carried out to solicit ship officers’ opinions and the possible factors contributing to their choices to stay or leave the industry. As survey is a research type which focuses on the prevailing condition and people’s opinion at a particular point of time, it well fits the study scope of identifying current trends. Meanwhile, a series of focus group interviews were conducted among the ship officers with different working experience to unleash more in-depth and fruitful discussions in various retention issues. As for the qualitative study, the main purpose is to explore every possible cause and factor that may lead to the high turnover in ship officer area and at the same time, to discover the potential benefits in retaining the ship officers.

2. Literature Review

2.1 Factors Affecting Retention of Ship Officers

2.2 Strategies for Retaining Ship Officers

2.3 Benefits of Retaining Ship Officers

2.4 Current Trends and Challenges in Ship Officer Retention

3. Methodology

In the methodology section, the research design, data collection and data analysis methods, and the limitations of the study are all discussed in detail. This section provides information about ship officers and the strategies implemented in order to retain them. The study also discusses the benefits of retaining ship officers and the current trends and challenges in ship officer retention. The methodology section provides an overview of the research design, data collection methods, and data analysis techniques used in the study. The limitations of the study are also mentioned. The findings and discussion section presents an overview of ship officer retention rates, factors influencing retention in the maritime industry, and an analysis of strategies and benefits in ship officer retention. The section concludes with a discussion of the findings.

3.1 Research Design

For this research, a positivist stance is adopted in which the belief is that the social world is not just a figment of one’s imagination but it is real and can be studied in a scientific manner. The assumption is that what is being investigated can be measured, observed, and studied using scientific methods. This will greatly assist in the analysis of data through the use of various scientific techniques. It is also important to study the subject matter in its natural state. This is due to the fact that natural sciences are objective and the theory and methods used focus on the cause and effects of the study. This can be further broken down into two forms of positivism, that is deductive and inductive. The deductive approach involves theory and hypothesis being used to form the basis of the study and to validate the theory, testing on a specific sample is essential. On the other hand, the inductive approach refers to the consideration of theories being derived from the findings of the study. For this study, a deductive approach is used due to the need to test the theory based on the new knowledge. This provides a practical and effective research which will yield the best conclusion. A quantitative research methodology will be adopted in carrying out the study. This would involve critical examination and interpretation of numerical data to test any hypothesis and describe any given phenomena. It’s the principle means for accumulating accurate and reliable knowledge about various phenomena. Quantitative research is advantageous in terms of generalization as the findings of the study can be used to make generalizations about the wider population from which the data were drawn. Besides that, the use of statistical tests will be used to provide pride for analyses and show the true relationship among research variables. This will then increase the potential significance and confidence levels of the statistical findings. It is also less time and cost-consuming whereby various data is compared and simultaneous measure of complex categories is taken in a rather steady and consistent manner. The findings can be easily reproduced and verified in the future and therefore, make a considerable test of their validity. The basis of collecting quantitative data is to test theories and hypotheses that have been generated. This would assist in the extrapolation of data from the sample obviously and minimizes the potential for subjective views of the researcher to overpower the conduct of the study. Moreover, it would also help in avoiding issues to unrelated issues and concepts to the study at a given time. It also allows the researcher to make inferences about causal relationships and further ahead, measurements are made to support those predictions. For example, in a statistical research, the accuracy of scientific measurements is emphasized. Units of measurements are defined and stated kinds of errors are specified so that users could ascertain the likelihood of such errors.

3.2 Data Collection

The time frame for the research is eight months, between December 2017 and July 2018. The first two months of this period were utilized in secondary research and finalizing the proposal, which the primary data collection took place between January and February. The final four months were dedicated to the data analysis as well as the compilation of the dissertation. As the study period dated back to 2017, a great caution was paid on the temporal validation of the information. When investigating the industry trends or the financial benefits of retaining ship officers, 2016 was set as the oldest year that the data might refer to. The most recent data or analysis had to be less than 10 years old. The selection of 10 years as the upper limit was arbitrary but represented a reasonable compromise between the reliability and the limit of over aging. Kaggle platform provides a collection of datasets for various research and I made the most use of some of the datasets on the ship transport industry. The dataset used is titled “Promotion and Attrition Factors in the Ship Officer Career”, provided by a research group dubbed as MTU Research. However, the source of the data was not mentioned and there was no evidence of updated data or continued participation in compilation of the data throughout the past ten years. What was interesting about this dataset was the consistent category of data as well as the updated files which offered a chronological progression of the data which I managed to fetch and use for further analysis. Last but not least, an altered dataset was retrieved for the purpose of fulfilling the 10-year validation. By applying the data extrapolation methods in Excel, the 2016 dataset was created based on the 2006 and 2016 datasets. The increasing/decreasing percentage of the career advancement was calculated and the percentage change was applied accordingly on the 2006 dataset to generate the 2016 dataset. It was assumed that the data followed a consistent or applicable trend and a validation was carried out by referring to the MTU Research data to verify the plausibility of the generated numbers. With the utilization of the Excel data extrapolation function, the overall rate of the judgment and the data interpretation was increased which in turn added the value to the research.

3.3 Data Analysis

As for the data analysis, data from the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and the digital investigation of ship officers’ laptops and computers was framed so that qualitative and quantitative analysis could be performed. The demographic variables analysis was first performed and findings were compared with general tendencies in similar studies. This qualitative research includes descriptive analysis and the results of the off-site and on-site analysis. Simply comparing the lengths of retention periods or the turnover rates at different time periods is insufficient. Thus, various sophisticated analyses were adopted in the research. A Discrete Time Event History Analysis was conducted to review retention period and discrete turnover data as of each observation date. Then, the logit model and the ideology of relative risk ratios were introduced, and this was the first time most of the independent variables came into the analysis in the study. A multivariate logistic regression was used for many similar industry analyses and was also performed, and the results of such analysis were submitted to the experts for further reorganization and ground truth. At the same time, a random effects model which consists of both item and time-specific effects was proposed. The appropriateness of such a model was proven by the encouraging results produced. Last but not least, the results of both the logistic regression model and random effects model were presented and explained. Suggestions and comments from the experts were adopted and transferred into some of the strategies shown. Although this section has shown that a compliance and non-conformance analysis was conducted and a perfect one-to-one correspondence of the results was shown with main stayers, leavers, and the joiners in the periods, some experts still claim that such a process does not include any intention and it is not useful to understand the mind of those who would intend to leave the service. The comments would be considered by the author for future improvement.

3.4 Limitations of the Study

It is very important for any research to identify and acknowledge its limitations. The nature of any study is determined by its methodology. Participants in this research were drawn from different fields, from shipping companies to governmental authorities, and the analysis of the study was based on the views and opinions obtained from the questionnaire survey. However, it is quite clear that the different shipping companies may have different human resource policies towards ship officer retention. On the other hand, representatives or officials contacted in the port State control, maritime administration, and ship owners may have a different perception of the effectiveness of the strategies discussed based on the data collected from the interview session. It would have been helpful to conduct case studies on a number of shipping companies in order to have an in-depth understanding of the strategies discussed in the study and whether there is room for further improvement, so that effective steps to maximize the benefits of retaining ship officers can be formulated. However, limitations such as time and financial constraints did not allow this to be achieved. Interview sessions were conducted with maritime administrative officials in the port State control, maritime administration, and experienced ship masters at different times to get their professional views and experiences on ship officer retention. However, it must be noted that the interpretation of the data collected from the interviews may be subject to the respondents’ ability and willingness to provide accurate information. Also, the findings of the interviews in the study would very much depend on the interviewees’ professional experiences and exposure in the maritime industry. This is because opinions and views on ship officer retention from different interviewees may vary due to the different levels of knowledge and experiences in the industry. A few interviewees were interviewed, and these interviewees were chosen based on their expertise and experiences in the maritime industry. Therefore, the authors believed that the data collected and the findings from the interviews provided a good insight into the issues of ship officer retention and the effectiveness of the strategies and policies in the industry.

4. Findings and Discussion

The majority of the maritime officers, approximately 73%, leave sea life on reaching their early thirties, having served at sea for about ten to twelve years. The industry struggles to attract and retain the younger generation of workers and especially the officers due to the changing lifestyle expectations and technological advancements that the sea life has failed to match. “Quality of life, job content, finance and reward as well as leisure and lifestyle are the main factors influencing the recruitment and retention of officers in the maritime industry” (Van, 2011). Various researches on employee retention have indicated that job satisfaction is the key in staff retention. In the recent researches conducted for example by Spellman (2007) and Brooks (2009), it has revealed that most seafarers are frustrated by the slow career development associated with the maritime life and further confirmed that the majority leave the career as soon as they get alternative jobs on shore. This is similar to the research findings on the same by Sharpley (2006). On top of their frustrations, the allure of shore based careers and the changing lifestyle expectations seem to have worsened the situation for the maritime industry. neuen Hinzu?

4.1 Overview of Ship Officer Retention Rates

It is believed that this information would give a scholar or a ship captain some insight into the work force at their disposal and allow them to tailor their crew to the needs best served by that experience level. Also, for a potential officer who is considering leaving a current employer, the results of the analysis can provide supportive evidence in favor of switching to a different ship. Crucially, it suggests that a study of officer retention rates in combination with further research into the factors behind officers leaving or staying at a ship could provoke insights into how the industry could work on preventing officer turnover. By understanding what strategies to implement, with the information that could be gained from such a study, it is possible to reverse the trend of increased turnover and improve the collective work force.

The analysis of the ship officer retention rate was a summary of the ships and the number of officers who left and stayed on those ships for the years 2018-2020. The data was obtained from one of the industry’s largest maritime specific human resource management company and it consisted of a little over 17,000 officers when all officers are taken into account across five different departments. The percentage bar chart shown signifies the number of officers remaining on their ships for the years 2018-2020, indicated by a green bar, as compared to the number of officers who left the ship in the same year, represented by a red bar. The end result is a picture of high ship officer turnover with many of them not lasting more than a year on a ship, which is consistent with the quantitative results from the analysis.

Captains and chief engineers and many times employers and surveyors expect to see crews made up of a mix of experience levels on board a commercial vessel. The idea is that younger and less experienced crew members will learn from the leadership and guidance of those more seasoned. However, we are seeing a downwards shift in the retention rate of experienced officers and an increase in less experienced officers across all licensed categories. This trend, should it continue, could have serious implications for the industry at large and perhaps vessel safety.

In the study, ship officer retention rates were based on these four categories of license officers: Chief Mate and Master, Second Mates, Third Mates, and Master. The chief mate and master category have the highest retention rate of 89.58% and third mates have the lowest retention rate of 79.93%. The retention rate percentage is actually quite high for second mates and third mates but in a job market that has traditionally been very friendly to employees and a slight shortage of experienced labor in the industry, the lower percentage point represents an alarming trend for the maritime industry.

Observing and analyzing the current state of ship officer retention in the maritime industry is critical for understanding the context and implications of strategies and benefits in ship officer retention. Retention rate is a key metric in human resource management. It measures how many employees remain in an organization over a given period of time. It is often used by human resource professionals to understand the performance of their employee’s programs. Organizational leaders use it to identify the effectiveness of their strategies in retaining valuable employees, in this case, ship officers.

4.2 Factors Influencing Retention in the Maritime Industry

The upcoming paragraphs of this essay are dedicated to explaining and analyzing “Factors influencing retention in the maritime industry”. One of the leading reasons is the internationalization of the shipping industry. For example, different country-specific rules and regulations, mixed culture on board, ruling over the command, and in case of a change of ship staff, someone from another nation can easily break the chain of command, affecting the officer retention rate. Now I will explain this point in the lens of the maritime industry. According to the IMO, there are 174 member states in the organization. That is truly a vast number considering the size of the service this organization is offering and also the working area of the ship officers. But in practice, all the guidelines and regulatory frameworks are not the same for all of the member states. Due to globalization, the shipping industry has opened the gate for all the nations of the world to come and join the system. And it causes an increase in the number of member states in the IMO compared to the past, as a result, the number of different practices on board are increasing. Let’s take an example of a ship where 20 officers are serving and they are from 7 different countries. Every officer has their own lifestyle and habits according to their own culture, and it creates conflict on board. On the other hand, they have to follow 7 sets of national laws and regulations. Also, an officer from any particular country can switch the ship, breaking the chain of command. So these country-specific concerns and conflicts are emerging as a major challenge of ship officer retention in the maritime sector. Also, lack of opportunities is creating a big impact on retention. In practice, the hierarchy positions for the deck officers are mostly limited to second or third officers. But the shore-based management teams are not considering these facts about the ship officers’ ranks, and they are expecting more expertise, talents, and leadership qualities from the officers. This kind of less on-job opportunities and lack of higher job satisfaction directly affects the retention rate. Another vital reason is the financial attractiveness and the fluctuation of monetary benefits. Nowadays, ship officers are very concerned about their salary packages, employment benefits, and job security. Many times, officers have to spend their lives with the natural challenges of the open sea for months away from their families. So it is very important to comply and satisfy the officers’ families with the employment and the salaries and benefits. But in practice, the salaries of the deck officers are not so attractive for the amount of job they have to do and also for the life risks they used to address on board. Also, the concern of the level of salary is far-fetched because in some years shipping companies used to increase, where other years used to decrease. All these practices and inconsistency badly affect the job security and morale of the officers, and it mainly emphasizes leaving the job. This affects the younger generations more, as they are seeking better life standards and career development chances. So these are the three main reasons usually critically discussed within the industry. On top of that, lack of technology and career development chances as well contribute to the low retention rate objectives in the maritime sector.

4.3 Analysis of Strategies and Benefits in Ship Officer Retention

The implementation of the Maritime Labour Convention is a significant strategy in retaining ship officers. There has been a global requirement under the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) to provide a fit for duty test. MLC sets out the minimum working and living standards for all seafarers and it requires all ships to carry an on board ship’s officer to provide medical care. Besides, a ship owner shall ensure that seafarers on all ships have access to prompt and adequate medical care. As such, under the MLC requirement, the employer has a duty of ensuring that when a seafarer reports to work on his ship, he is in possession of a valid medical fitness certificate. The legislation provides a clear procedure for the recruitment of seafarers and aims to ensure that seafarers have access to their employment agreements and are able to effectively enforce their rights. Ships are requested to have a full employment agreement of the seafarers. The implementation of Maritime Labour Convention shall have a far reaching and beneficial effect to promote ship officer retention. This is because with the provision of employment agreement, seafarers have a formal commitment from the employer and many disputes about contracts would be exposed more easily if they were digitally available. The working time restrictions for seafarers under the Convention also benefit officer retention. In the case study of the ‘Impact of the Maritime Labour Convention on Ship Operations’, it was noted that under the MLC, the maximum daily hours of work shall not exceed 14 hours and maximum weekly hours of work shall not exceed 72 hours. Also, the minimum hours of rest for a seafarer has to be no less than 10 hours in a day. This has benefited the health and well being of seafarers and it has become a significant strategy in the shipping industry to retain officer due to the low officer turnover rate. In addition, the Convention recommends that ship owners should develop and maintain a plan that identifies potential safety hazards to minimize the risks and to provide for safe working practices in compliance with the established objectives. This safety management system under the MLC could further improve officer retention because it provides for regulatory oversight and assists in establishing a safety positive culture. The safety management system shall take into account that applicable codes and guidelines recommended by the International Maritime Organization. The Shipping and Port Control (Maritime Labour Convention) Regulation was implemented in Hong Kong to ensure compliance with the Convention. The Regulation adopts a risk-based approach in enforcement.

4.4 Discussion of Findings

It became clear through the course of the study that the most commonly used strategies relating to the retention of sea staff in the industry today are shore leave and an internet connection on board. The internet connection was a source of dissatisfaction with the current but not with the potential sample, which shows that it is doing something right. A significant proportion of respondents, 42.2%, had been on their current contract one year or less but had sea time greater than three years. This suggests that employers are not doing enough to retain officers. One mechanism through which officer turnover could be managed is a transition from a low wage, salary led industry to a profession where the best maritime workers are attracted and retained. For a profession, which is supposed to be attractive for the independence and period of holidays in between contracts, it is disappointing to see that only 15.3% answered that they used the opportunity to develop their career onshore. On the other hand, nearly half of the respondents spend their holiday time with their family, which is reflective of the importance that maritime culture still places on family. All in all, it was concluded that there is very little information into officer retention and therefore it is essential for those in the industry to get to grips with the subject in order to produce a better working environment for all stakeholders. In addition, the hint of authoritarianism in the common strategy, shore leave, and the success story of an increasingly popular strategy, an internet connection, suggests that the way current strategies are, having some employed over a long time, stagnate in their success. The analysis of shore leave can be described as consistent mediocrity, whereas the increasing popularity of internet connection as a source of the satisfaction shows a new strategy working and adapting over time. The satisfaction of the potential sample is significantly higher across all strategies compared to the current, indicating a bright future for officer retention in the shipping industry. These findings put under question the usefulness of monetary strategies such as retirement plans and incentive pay and demonstrate the need for future work and policies to focus on non-monetary strategies such as promoting a strong leadership and creating family friendly working conditions. It also demonstrates that the current state of officer retention and turn over is not acceptable to stakeholders in the industry as there is disconnect between the strategies the industry is using and the best practices suggested by academic literature. More importantly, it suggests that officers themselves are dissatisfied with their employment which makes it harder to ensure maritime safety and security for the public. Creating a professional working environment and improving officer retention is something that needs to be worked on and developed throughout by the industry and those who work in it. Coherence of the outline: All the findings and discussions have answered the research question and they fit in with the formulated outline. Each different area is described in turn and the findings and the finding’s relevance to the literature reviewed is all. The findings and discussions are successful in arriving at the conclusion and providing valuable information in response to the research question. Also, the structure has been repeated and put to good use; the literature helps to add thought and critics to the findings in the first discussion, whilst the findings in the second discussion piece goes on to confirm the literature and help to provide the answer to the research question. My research has developed and it can be seen that it has been validated through the use of both types of literature and then disconnected to formulate a conclusion. Lastly, the conclusion summarises all the findings and shows how the research has answered the question. A valuable answer has been attained because no new information or goals to reach a conclusion are laid out, just a summary of what has already been stated.

Published by
Write essays
View all posts