Maritime communications have evolved at a phenomenal rate ever since broadband connectivity made a successful impact in the way people communicate with everyone at work.
Since SatCom service providers offer new connectivity packages that allow for higher digital data exchange capacities, new broadband solutions for crew onboard are also emerging with different allocations of data and bandwidth needs.
Just as our previous article – Is Enhanced Connectivity Worth The Investment – sea-to-shore communications are changing the lives of those people who spend much of their lives at sea.
But rather than discussing how enhanced connectivity improves the lives of everyone on board, there is a situation of conflicting values in regards to service adoption and onboard crew communications.
As VSAT installations are predicted to double over the next five years, Futurenautics Research reported that 42% of crew surveyed have not seen any improvement in the provision of onboard communications.
Neglecting crew satisfaction
This situation suggests that ship operators are only adopting new technologies to reduce costs, enhance operational efficiencies, and increase competitive advantage.
This pattern has also shown that focusing on infrastructure innovations while keeping up with new hybrid satellite solutions for operational efficiencies, fails to overlap the excruciating skepticism that exists in regards to crew satisfaction.
As the maritime industry is becoming more customer-centric with end-users – in most cases, passengers and merchants – expecting at shore, in port, and offshore connectivity, the same solutions should be applied to attract and retain crew in an industry where there is a huge shortage of qualified personnel to bring onboard.
Adhering to the lack of corporate commitment to crew satisfaction, the popularity of land-based connectivity has also re-defined crew expectations with a twofold nature:
From a young generation that aspires to access uninterrupted offshore connectivity to keep in touch with friends and family in remote locations, to the reluctance of senior seafarers and other experienced crew to continue their nautical careers in search of more stabilised and less isolated, land-based working opportunities.
Ever since the Internet became part of our lives, connectivity has also changed the way seafarers rank their life priorities.
As a matter of fact, another survey on crew communications, by Stark Moore McMillan, reported that 70% of Filipino seafarers are prepared and willing to assign a considerable amount of their income to pay for some online services.
Similarly, 68% of those surveyed had access to communications at sea, whereas only 46% had access to free services.
At the same time, Wi-Fi access ranked as the most desired service onboard based on the ability that seafarers had on connecting their devices for personal use.
Those findings suggest that crew communications still represent the vast majority of a ship’s consumption while big data-driven features and continuous deployment of sophisticated satellite antennas are prioritised for performance and cost-saving strategies.
So, from a practical point, how can maritime employers (end-users) benefit from the opportunities given by SatCom service providers to elaborate effective recruitment and retention strategies in the new digital age?
In fact, solutions are more concerned with strategic planning rather than engineering mechanisms.
To close the gap between crew dissatisfaction and effective labour turnover management, sustainable human resources practices are mandatory.
In the shipping sector, for example, the constant growth of the global fleet is not correlated to the decreasing number of seafarers available in the market. It is a simple case of supply and demand.
The provision of cheaper or even free access to email, social media, voice/video communications, and/or Internet café facilities is a key factor for crew to stay in touch with their friends and family, while reducing isolation and increasing motivation at work.
Telaccount Overseas, a Cyprian SatCom provider, has targeted its communications campaign to crew communications.
Not only has the company embraced the increasing pressure from ship operators to manage broadband connectivity for operational and safety needs, but it has also brought Telaccount iCafe services to help crew stay connected with everyone at home.
Using high data allowance plans, users are free to connect and browse online with a pin-code request to control usage rates and other features.
Training courses and career tools
A lack of modern equipment and training courses are also one of the most resonating issues that discourage crew from seeking career progression, causing lower retention rates and disloyalty.
Land-based and remote competence training options, including virtual simulation software and accredited career-oriented courses, should be facilitated for crew to learn new skills and grow in their careers.
Commenting on results, Heidi Heseltine, Manager Director of Halcyon Recruitment, gave a final point on employee conditions for the shipping sector in 2015:
“Shipping industry employers need to focus on strategies to retain their best people. Whether this involves creating hierarchical structures, offering clear career progression or providing training, employers need to think outside of the box and offer more than just a salary. Shipping may still be an employer driven market, but more thought needs to be given to the stagnant conditions most employees feel they are in.”