3 challenges facing crew managers right now

This is for you if you want to know what crew managers are most concerned about right now

There is an estimated invisible workforce of 1.5 million working on the world’s ships. This sizeable group of individuals are the responsibility of crew managers globally.

Balancing the requirements and satisfaction of the crew with the corporate interests of the ship makes a crew manager’s role incredibly challenging. They thread a fine line, weighing the needs and wants of seafarers against the financial health of the ship. Furthermore their role is made all the more testing due to the rapidly increasing digitalisation of the industry. After talking to clients and account managers at ATPI Griffinstone, here are three greatest challenges crew managers are facing:
 

1. Reducing cost whilst increasing efficiency

The main priority of crew managers is the efficient running of the ship and ensuring that its schedule runs to military precision; for example, stalling a vessel  due to an inefficient crew change, has huge ramifications and the costs of doing so run into the tens of thousands of pounds each day for the company operating the vessel. In charge of budget management of the ship, crew managers are regularly looking to reduce costs. After salaries, travel is the second biggest cost and one of increasing scrutiny, especially in regards to budget control and improved efficiency.

Specialist travel management companies play an integral role in transferring crew to ships efficiently. This is in part due to their technology and work flow management platforms, such as ATPI CrewLink™. These platforms integrate with internal or third-party crew management tools and enable the entire travel life cycle from scheduling, via travel management to reporting to be managed in one global platform. The easy to use platforms reduce manual intervention from crew managers and therefore increase productivity. Gary Pearce, ATPI’s Chief Commercial Officer explains that “the efficiencies both for us and our clients are legion.”

With a successfully managed travel programme comes data and lots of it! This enables better forecasting to aid crew management and in turn reduce costs. Moreover, a specialist marine travel management company has the technology and global presence to source the best availability and fares, Gary Pearce highlights that this is where “we bring real value and that equates to hard dollar savings” for our clients. 
 

2. Flexibility

Every crew manager’s biggest priority is successfully completing their crew rotation. Each one is made up of many moving parts, travel being just one, and so flexibility is needed. In contrast to business travel where staff fly into a major city for a few nights, marine travel requires a high level of organisation. Crew managers have to manage large groups of crew travelling from all over the globe to reach vessels on time, often in an obscure location.   Gary Pearce highlights this, “In the Marine & Offshore business, at least 50% of their business travel finishes on a vessel, a drilling rig or a platform. They may stay at a hotel on the way but they end up in remote locations.”

The travel patterns of crew are volatile and very often last minute, so access to last-seat availability is paramount. It can be the difference between getting crew to a vessel on time and not, thus saving thousands of pounds and time. Crew managers are further aided by a TMC which is able to source rates from alternative offices to ensure further cost savings and rates specific to the maritime industry.

Consultants in the marine industry are specialists in dealing with crew changes and their idiosyncrasies - they have decades of experience and understand that each crew change has its own unique challenges. With changes not confined to typical office hours, support for the crew manager and crew is needed 24/7/365 and from teams with full access to the same technology and information as the day-time servicing team.

Last minute changes to crew rotations mean that crew managers need direct access to their travel data 24/7 too. They need access to what has been booked and schedules. Instead of having to keep track of bookings in a separate mailbox, workflow management platforms enable crew managers to easily find specific tickets or information in one place. This gives them greater independence to manage themselves, meaning they can be agile in their response to change. 
 

3. Staff retention

Crew retention is a major challenge within the shipping industry. There is currently a shortfall in crew and it is set to only worsen as the number of qualified crew declines and many of the best crew move onto new pastures.

In order to enhance crew retention, seafarers need to be supported and recognised for their work and see potential for development within the industry and their life on dry land after. Furthermore, the industry must change to attract a new cohort of crew, especially individuals from generation z and millennials.

Improving the travel experience of seafarers is a just small part of the crew retention puzzle.  This could be through limiting last minute changes, reducing uncertainty and greater information in regard to travel. It is common for crew to be treated or feel like a commodity, how best to move them from door to deck at the lowest cost and by the desired time is key. This goes part of the way to explain why crew feel underappreciated and suffer from low morale. Thus approaching travel in a different way will help to aid crew retention. 

Ensuring staff feel safe whilst travelling to and from the ship is paramount. A sector specialist travel management company has the ability to track travellers, share alerts and communicate with them en route and 24/7 to ensure peace of mind for the crew and the crew manager. Should any incident occur, a travel management company is able to provide crisis management. Although travel to and from the vessel makes up just a small chunk of the months spent onboard, taking greater care and a more human approach is a small way to reassure crew that the shipping industry is changing for the better.