CMA, WOW – and YOU
The ‘human element’ moves to the forefront at the Connecticut Maritime Association’s 30th annual event, and then, later, at the 7th annual Women on the Water gathering at Kings Point.
I must admit that I struggled to come up with an overriding theme for the content presented at last week’s 30th Annual Connecticut Maritime Association event. Panels and speeches covered a wide range of different topics within the generic theme of “Celebrating the Best and Improving the Rest.” In the end, this year’s CMA event – like the Women on the Water (WOW) event that followed – always seemed to come back around to just one thing: the human element.
According to one CMA speaker, in last five years the global merchant fleet has increased by as much as 36 million DWT tons but only 5.5% in terms of numbers of ships. The backlog order book showed a similar metric with orders amounting to 18% of the current fleet (by DWT); but just 8% in terms of ship numbers alone. The message, however, was clear: We are not ready in terms of seafarers. And, the speaker added, we need to invest (more) in our crews.
Douglas Stevenson of the Church Seamen’s Institute took the theme one step further by asking, “Do we respect the crew?” and further underscored that question with deep concerns about poor access to shore leave – particularly here in the United States – and the paucity of shoreside facilities for visiting crew. Beyond this, he said that SCI’s latest survey (2014) indicated that ships rarely paid for the shore visas alluded to in the new Maritime Labor Convention (MLC 2006) and also expressed concerned about the scope and direction of the proposed U.S. Coast shore leave rules currently being considered.
Phil Barry of Spinnaker Global declared that the labor situation could be defined, to a certain extent, by “the law of supply and demand.” And, he said that a BIMCO study showed that a labor shortfall was coming, especially given the fact that the average seagoing career was now just 8 years. Exacerbating the issue ashore, he said, is a ‘skills gap for leadership and management skills.’
Although a generational shift at sea is clearly coming, we aren’t necessarily ready for it, the panelists warned. Oil & Gas and shipping are two-legged operations, they said. The ship is one platform and the people are the other. Without one, the other cannot function. Nevertheless, and amidst the ongoing dip in oil prices, Oil & Gas mass layoffs and in the offshore vessel sector, reductions in force, are both gathering steam. From my perspective, the message was clear: we simply can’t repeat the mistakes of the last oil crunch (mid 1980’s) and expect that the energy industry and its shipping counterparts will be ready for the next surge in business, when it comes.
The exclamation point on all of that, perhaps, occurred at this year’s CMA Gala when 2015 Commodore Award Recipient Captain Panagiotis Tsakos was unable to attend and his 12-year grandson accepted the honors for him in his absence. In this case, the pleasant ceremony offered a glimpse of what might be to come. And, while we might just see this young man someday follow in his Grandfather’s shoes, he’s not quite ready for that just yet. Arguably, the next generation of mariners and offshore oil workers are in the same proverbial boat.
Just about 25 miles up the road at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, the annual Women on the Water (WOW) conference (co-hosted by the U.S. Maritime Administration) got into full swing just one day after the conclusion of CMA. With no real excuse to miss the event, I carefully navigated the aggressive commuter traffic and enormous potholes (some big enough to swallow my economy rental car) on I-95 to see what it was all about. As it turned out, this event was largely focused on the human element of shipping, as well.
The annual conference, which is hosted by a different U.S. maritime academy each year, brought together over 125 maritime professional mariners and maritime academy cadets. The three day conference began with opening remarks from Maritime Administrator Paul Jaenichen. He welcomed the audience of mostly women by thanking attendees and saying, “Thank you for your interest in a strong and diverse maritime community, and thank you for taking the right steps to promote your personal growth and career development.”
Female cadets from most if not all of the state maritime academies were present in the audience, eager to hear what the all-female panel of accomplished mariners and maritime professionals had to say. For my part, I honestly didn’t know what to expect, especially being one of the few men in the building. That said; the gathered cadets received valuable advice mixed with a good dose of common sense from the speakers, all of whom reached back into their collective experiences to help make the transition to the working world on the water for these future mariners just a little bit easier.
For everyone involved, it was an enormously valuable day. Maritime Administrator Jaenichen, during one of the breaks, exclaimed, “This is a wonderful event. We need to find a way to get more stakeholders and students involved.” I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I think that male cadets would’ve benefited from the presentations just as much as the females. Beyond this, and sitting there listening to the words of wisdom, I’m pretty sure that 35 years ago, I could’ve used this sort of counseling when I stepped onto my first ship with the ink still wet on my Third Mate’s ticket.
It was a day full of surprises. I had the chance to speak to a couple of the professional women in the room. One of those particularly accomplished maritime academy graduates (also an experienced mariner) expressed her approval of the event’s purpose but also told me privately, “I look forward to a time that we don’t need to have these sorts of things.” Her message, I think, echoed the theme of the conference, which asserts that “Talent is talent – regardless of the gender.”
The conference gave attendees and cadets the opportunity to learn skills from presentations that included “Decoding the Gender Gaps,” “Afloat Employment,” “Mentoring” and even “Work-Life Balance.” Appropriately, the Keynote speaker was Rear Admiral Mary Landry, United States Coast Guard (USCG) Retired.
As the day began, Marad Chief Jaenichen told the gathered crowd, “Our industry needs to fully leverage the diversity of thought, character, courage and commitment that women have to offer. MARAD understands that a more diverse and inclusive workforce will give rise to a stronger and more prosperous maritime industry.” At a time when a shortage of qualified mariners in the numbers required to crew the world’s merchant ships is being predicted, that’s good advice.
CMA, WOW & YOU
About 400 miles to the north of Kings Point, in the administration building at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, hangs a plaque which reads simply, “You can have a Merchant Marine with first class men even if they sail second class ships, but second class men can’t be trusted with the finest ships afloat.” The exact phraseology is a bit dated, but its message – taken from the first Maritime Commissioner, Joseph P. Kennedy – certainly is not. MMA first year cadets are to this day required to memorize the quote, and with good reason.
The human element of shipping, which includes all professionals, regardless of gender, is arguably more important than the most advanced technology or most robust platforms that we can build and send to sea. That much was evident last week in Stamford at CMA and then again, just down the road at the WOW conference at Kings Point. At a time (like now, for example) when business and profits might not necessarily be where we would like them to be, that’s a good ‘takeaway’ from both events. – MarPro.
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Joseph Keefe is the lead commentator of MaritimeProfessional.com. Additionally, he is Editor of both Maritime Professional and MarineNews print magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at Keefe@marinelink.com. MaritimeProfessional.com is the largest business networking site devoted to the marine industry. Each day thousands of industry professionals around the world log on to network, connect, and communicate.