Crew Welfare: Mentoring needed ‘now more than ever’

Astudy into mentoring within the shipping industry has been hailed as a “milestone” by the Secretary General of InterManager.

“As a mentor now, I can see how young people are coming into the job and are not mentored and they are wasting their time and the company’s,” said Captain Kuba Szymanski.

“Very often when I have a ship’s Master who complains about the younger generation, I kindly remind them that 30 years ago we were at a loss, we were 20 years old and we didn’t know anything. We came fully loaded with knowledge from the school. We needed someone to hold our hand and say this is how you apply it and this is why you don’t do this or that.”

The Mentoring Seafarers Team at Solent University is collaborating with Nautilus International and has been sponsored by the ITF Seafarers’ Trust in a year-long study into mentoring schemes which are currently being run across the shipping industry. InterManager has been working with the project team in garnering views for the survey and will be promoting the results along with the University team.

Leading the year-long study to investigate the level of mentoring support currently available to seafarers is Dr Kate Pike, an Associate Professor and Senior Research Fellow at Solent University’s Warsash School of Maritime Science and Engineering.

She said mentoring was an important issue “now more than ever” and the role of mentoring was important not just for training and experience but also for the well-being of seafarers.

“Things have changed quite dramatically onboard. Turnaround times in ports are much smaller than they used to be. Socialisation onboard is very different to how it used to be. There’s also a greater mix of nationalities onboard leading to a greater need for diversity awareness which means that different needs are required to be supported. Good mentoring can help significantly here.”

Capt Szymanski added: “Historically, shipping was always very much about mentoring. If you look at medieval times, whenever anyone went to sea, and they went at a young age – seven or eight – it was always very much hands on. Skills, skills, skills.

“Now, we are trying to expedite everything so there is a lot of knowledge transfer going on in academies, colleges and so on, but we cannot substitute skills. We have to marry experience with knowledge and this is where mentoring comes along.”

He also said the extra pressure on seafarers to do more work and take on extra roles was also affecting the role of mentors.

“A lot of seafarers are now being pushed and pushed and pushed and everybody – and it’s not just in shipping – is accumulating extra jobs,” he told SMI.

“There are less and less people and more and more tasks and therefore something has to fall short. Very often, mentoring is the first one to go overboard because the mentor doesn’t necessarily feel he will have a reward.”

Sarah Honebon, who is a Research Officer within Solent University’s Warsash School of Maritime Science and Engineering, has 17 years’ seafaring experience on high speed craft and conventional ferries and worked for 23 years in the shipping industry. She was directly involved with training, recruitment and mentoring.

She said this one-year mentoring study stemmed from the Solent University’s GEM Project, which examined gender issues and seafarers’ welfare arising from multi-cultural crews, with teams in the UK, China and Nigeria.

“It was identified as a gap that needed investigation to see what was out there, what impact it was having, how it was being operated and what people were doing.”

Ms Honebon said it is reported that only 25% of knowledge is gained and retained from classroom type situation, leaving a 75% void in comprehension once seafarer certification has been issued.

She said mentoring was important to plug the knowledge gap and was a two-way function supporting personal growth in both career development and welfare with role modelling playing an integral part.

“My previous experience demonstrated that a mentoring scheme established early on can particularly help seasonal staff. These people have lots of information to do with formal teaching – STCW- but when they went onboard they were a bit like a ‘deer in the headlight’, not knowing the practical elements of the job and not knowing who to ask, who to speak to and what to do,” she said.

“We had a group mentor with each group and having that person made all the difference to how they hit the ground running when they came onboard and straight into watches.”

She added: “The support onboard was invaluable. I was also a Cabin Manager and having those people come onboard with more information and knowing what was expected was far more beneficial than not having it. Confidence and knowledge about the job had already been built just through having additional support.”

Data is being assimilated from the 321 seafarers who responded to the survey, from across 92 companies, ranging from global corporations to smaller operators.

“People have been amazingly responsive, and we’ve started to analyse the survey results and, on the back of it, develop questions for interviews that will now go into further detail,” said Dr Pike.

“There will be extensive data analysis and we are already coming up with areas where there is information that we want to expand on through the interviews. The final result will be a report that offers recommendations to the industry, based on what we find out and will highlight the best practice going on within our industry and potentially other industries in terms of mentoring.”

Dr Pike added: “There is a lot of positivity about the mentoring that does take place but it has to be recognised that the industry needs to take a look at itself and see what’s going wrong behind the scenes so that mentoring doesn’t become a panacea for correcting everything. It can be a highly effective support tool if the mentee/mentor relationship is a good one.

Ms Honebon said: “The feedback that we’ve had from this amount of people, saying similar things about similar areas, shows there’s clearly some movement forward in leadership and management strategies both ashore and onboard. We need to be reviewing how we can go forward and how we can make this more dynamic and more effective onboard. It’s about pushing effective mentoring to fill that gap.”

She said the issues that need to be addressed might be connected to cost and added: “If we can show that we have issues and show that profitability and productivity can be affected, we are more likely to move forward with the data that we have. There is some really rich data coming forward that will be interesting when we come to write the report.”

Both Ms Honebon and Dr Pike said they were very pleased that the responses cover so many different nationalities.

“We are also lucky enough to have a large representative of female participants as well – about 12% – which is higher than the percentage for officers employed in the industry at the moment,” said Ms Honebon.

It is hoped the report will be ready by the beginning of next year, and Dr Pike said one of the things covered in the report would be how mentoring can assist in the retention side of the job, adding: “It is something we definitely want to get across in this report.”

Capt Szymanski praised the work of the Solent University team, saying: “I am extremely enthusiastic in getting the message across to our leaders ashore, that they should not expect mentoring to happen if they do not start mentoring themselves – if they do not recognise the value of it.”

“There is a lot of very superficial research going on in the world and seafarers and ship managers start getting a bit fatigued by that. They are not bothered about meaningless questions.

“Kate is doing a superb job with her team, researching and providing hard-hitting facts which we can then use and conclude what can be gained from that. As far as shipping is concerned, I think this will be a milestone.

“A happy crew is a happy ship. If they have got someone they respect they will work their socks off. If they’ve got someone who is always shouting at them, very quickly they get frustrated, lose interest and they want to go home. We have to take action.”