YoungShip’s Birgit Liodden
The new generation is now, and Liodden challenges maritime stakeholders to take a fresh look at how to recruit the industry’s future leaders.
It takes energy to keep up with Oslo-based Birgit Liodden. Maritime Professional magazine nevertheless caught up with her long enough at the annual Connecticut Maritime Association’s 2013 Shipping Conference to gain some insights into what makes her tick, and more importantly, why. The well-regarded young shipping professional was in town to serve as the keynote speaker at the eighth annual WISTA USA luncheon, kicking off the CMA event in March.
In her talk before 270 industry professionals, maritime academy cadets and invited dignitaries, and touching upon the hot-button issue of bringing youth into today’s maritime industry, Birgit also shed light on her passion for the Norway-based YoungShip organization. As it turns out, both Liodden and YoungShip might just be the tonic that waterfront stakeholders are thirsting for. After a refreshing one hour interview in Stamford, it wasn’t hard to see why.
The recipient of WISTA Norway’s 2012 Leadership Award, and Secretary-General of YoungShip International, Liodden’s remarkable efforts in creating community for young shipping professionals and promoting careers in the maritime industry have drawn rave reviews from an industry that is desperately searching for strategies to attract and retain (good) talent. Her accolades include a spot on the ‘100 top young Norwegian leaders’ in the annual rating by the business news channel E24.no and inclusion in Lloyd´s List’s “On our Radar” section, putting her in excellent company with some fifty young global talents without previous family ties to the industry.
YoungShip and WISTA; Collaboration not Competition
Also a member of WISTA, Liodden and YoungShip provide similar outreach and mentoring for a considerable, international membership. But Liodden insists, “We don’t compete with other similar organizations; we collaborate.” And therein is the secret to her success and perhaps the potential windfall awaiting a maritime industry that is quickly warming up to that special formula.
There is a lot of synergy between YoungShip and WISTA. “In Norway, we work quite closely with WISTA. The Norway YoungShip branches have a mentorship program for young women and a senior manager from WISTA provides support for these efforts. We are joining in WISTA’s recruitment activities. And we have joint WISTA / YoungShip events,” adds Liodden.
The organization that began for young professionals (under the age of 35) working within the maritime industry in the South of Norway has expanded, far beyond the original dreams of its founders. Promoting an inclusive and inviting culture, Liodden says, “We don’t compete with existing groups in any cities or ports – for example – the young shipping professional group in New York. We’ll coordinate and cooperate with them. This and several other organizations are built on the “YoungShip” model. If their members travel to our cities where we have a branch, they have full access to our amenities and privileges.”
YoungShip, like Liodden herself, has been a success story. Starting as a small group of people in Norway in 2004, it now covers 14 branches in seven countries, with sister organizations established in eight additional sites. Built entirely on the backs volunteer efforts among young shipping professionals, the organization endeavors to utilize the potential of an involved and skilled group of young employees with the goals of:
• Involving young employees in central industry project;
• Increase visibility outside the industry – share the “good” stories;
• Become more attractive for students to secure future talent;
• Increase the cooperation among industry stakeholders & organizations;
• Strengthen support to shared initiatives (Maritim21 & Nor-Shipping Campus); and
• Further strengthen the focus on green innovation.
YoungShip’s Work; Liodden’s Passion
Close to home, YoungShip Bergen, starting from a very small group of just 40 individuals, now has over 230 members from over 70 different companies within the maritime industry – shipowners, managers, brokers, operators, financial institutions, insurance, technical – the entire cluster. Liodden explains the impetus for its inception. “The motivation was to create a social outlet for young maritime professionals. We found that many of the trade organizations were dominated and run by very senior people; aged 50 and above. YoungShip started in 2005 and I joined the maritime industry in 2006, joining the board of the Oslo branch in 2008 and became the president, the year after.” The organization caught on and grew quickly and this spurred the search to expand internationally, as well. Eventually, Liodden took on the role as Secretary-General of the International branch. In this role, she helps facilitate the local branches, establishing best practice guidelines, applications, promotional efforts and counsels others on how to get started.
It’s a full-time job. Actually, it’s not Liodden’s day job, but it is her passion. As one of her project management company’s many clients, the YoungShip initiative is clearly her favorite. Parallel to those efforts, she continues her outreach to young people. In March, she told MarPro, “I also am working on a project in Norway – a national recruitment and branding initiative called Ocean Talent Camp. 10,000 young students, aged 13 to 18 will learn about the maritime industry in downtown Oslo in the week of NorShipping. It’s the first of its kind. We’ve joined forces on this effort with DNV, Statoil, the maritime trade organizations, here and abroad.” The trade fair will come complete with simulators and the students will assume the roles of shipowners, refiners and other key maritime positions.
Clearly proud out what YoungShip has become and the potential of what it could accomplish in the future, Liodden says, “We have professionalized a new organization in a relatively short period of time. When I joined the board, the Norwegian Shipowners Association had withdrawn their support to us. A year later they extended a full cooperation agreement. I think that outside of YoungShip – at the shipowners and in the maritime industry – people have come to understand that young professionals, like the ones represented by YoungShip are where the answers to today’s and the future challenges to the industry are to be found.
Tackling Real World Challenges: Real Life Experience
“My background is not typical – I left school at the age of 16 and I worked in other industries before coming to shipping,” admits Liodden. But, her boots on the ground experience has since taken her to places like Lagos, Nigeria where she served as an external consultant, and helped implement HR systems, improved internal processes and also formulated their guidelines for anti-corruption. As a professional woman – and now, a new mother, too – she balances an exciting career with the joy of a family probably about as well as anyone. To this end, she has her own opinions.
“First of all, it takes a great partner – in my case, a great partner – but the firms themselves need to make better arrangements for the Moms and the Dads. A more flexible work day and the ability to work remotely are good places to start. And here in the states, for example, there are a massive amount of women who leave the workforce once they have children, never to return. For those who want to; that’s great. For those who want both a career and a family, it is much harder. And some of these women are great talents. If you want to keep them, then you have to try harder. That’s the challenge. So, hiring someone is expensive, but hiring the wrong people much more expensive. All those competent young people – some of whom are about to become parents – men and women – then you probably want to keep them.
Bouncing between speaking engagements at the International Chamber of Shipping in London, and another scheduled in June for the IMO at the ship safety conference, she continues her efforts to promote the merits of young professionals to the industry and perhaps just as importantly, the other way around. As for YoungShip, she admits, “We are arguably in the right place at the right time, but to be fair, we started in on this effort quite a bit earlier than most. And, as more organizations and firms realize that they must recruit young people to come into shipping and the maritime world, they come to us. Yes, good timing.”
Springboard for a New Generation
Also launching this year, but just one more plank in the YoungShip deck, is the Young Entrepreneur Award, part of the joint Nor-Shipping/YoungShip effort to further develop Nor-Shipping (June 4-7) as an arena for the next generation. Open to nominees from all segments of the industry, it will honor an under 40-year-old professional who has founded a successful company that spearheads challenges or solutions in a new way. Birgit Liodden will, of course be right in the thick of it.
The contest candidates may be from any segment of the industry and located anywhere in the world and will ideally demonstrate excellence with a wide range of new concepts and solutions for the maritime industry. In cooperation with the YoungShip International board and representing a broad spectrum of the industry, an independent jury of six professionals will select the winner. Alongside the Director of Nor-Shipping, the President of YoungShip Oslo, the young and energetic Secretary General of YoungShip International – Birgit Liodden – naturally leads the jury.
Birgit Liodden is, at the young age of barely 30 years, just getting started. Eventually, and when she is done, the maritime industry and Maritime Professionals everywhere, will be the better for it.
(As published in the 2Q edition of Maritime Professional - www.maritimeprofessional.com)