Several years ago, in the project Blue Riband, I proposed many new ideas to address a shortage of marine professionals on ships and ashore. The project was meant to highlight shortcomings that I observed in the Canadian marine industry (but worldwide too), propose solutions, and mostly start a conversation. I needed to get those ideas out of my head, so from that perspective it was a success, but otherwise did not gain any traction, so Blue Riband was mostly a flop in meeting its goals.
One of the topics addressed, was the idea that immigration could just solve our entire certification shortfall in Canada, which after making that observation many years ago, still seems to be the solution for the Canadian marine industry. I don’t think this is a problem in itself, but questioned the ability of the industry to just absorb these professionals, without making changes to expectations and their business cultures.
Immigration is not an easy road. It takes a tremendous amount of strength and determination by an individual, and their families, in order to succeed. With this determination there comes a high degree of motivation which will overlook several factors, that other otherwise might be a non-starter for more established talent. A sort of adrenaline is brought to bear, in order for this sizeable personal undertaking to succeed, to make it work at all costs. It’s probably why Columbus burned his ships after discovering the new world, I’m sure adrenaline was kicking in for his crew when they realized that they needed to make it work.
I believe the Canadian marine industry is taking advantage of this immigration “adrenaline”, to stave the obvious fact that our current marine industry model is not a sustainable one – after all, adrenaline is only meant to be temporary.
The nineties saw the fall of the Berlin wall and an exodus out of the Eastern Block by many professional seafarers, flooding the market with officers, including in Canada. Two decades on from this, I see from colloquial observations that there has been a return of those mariners back to their former homes. The realization that wages might have seemed high in Canada, were finally tempered by the realities were that cost of living, and taxes were outpacing these wages by far. Once the “immigration adrenaline” wears off, there are some real facts to be considered, is life better here or where I was?
I recently heard this comment by a peer from Pakistan, mulling the idea of returning to his ancestral home. Brantford wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, and his wages were barely covering expenses, living in this cookie cutter, distant suburb of Toronto. Just think about that for a minute, as there are some severe implications to Canada’s marine industry “modus operandie”.
I am not privy to the management of maritime companies in Canada, but from my perspective, they do not appear to have made any effort to change their expectations. No change, despite the well known facts that people from different cultures have different expectations and ethos. When changing your workforce’s ethnicity, how is that going to affect your business goals?
OK so you’re going to say I’m a racist, and my reply is no, because racist sees the negative. I believe there are some general differences in character traits of people of different ethinicity – but I don’t believe this is a bad thing. Diversity is a benefit to an organization, it should not be homogenized. It’s important to recognize the differences and be aware of the impacts it represents to operations. When I was taking my Engine Room Resource Management course some time back, a great deal of time was allotted to the idea that people of different culture, operating in an environment of high demand, such as on board, present various challenges, but also, opportunities.
Why do I bring this up, well like most of my musings, it’s a cathartic exercise for me. I ran into a very “top down” kind of guy from a different culture, some time back. Sailing with him in the fleet was not a big issue, as I would be on a different boat, so it wasn’t important that his ways of running a vessel, were not in line with what I hold important.
The company liked, or chose to overlook the dodgy nature of his solutions, because it “moved the boat”. But at what point can you keep running on “adrenaline” or temporary fixes, before an accident happens. When he was promoted, because there was nobody else available to work at that rate under those expectations, the cultural difference really came out.
The typical work environment that people expect in the Canadian workplace has matured into management of a circular nature instead of the “top down” approach, especially with the exodus of the baby boomers from the workforce. I think it’s fair to say that modern companies project an expectation that input is expected, and dished out from all involved, with the goals of the company being the driving objective.
Ok, so marine companies have never been known to be modern, and I think we are seeing a resistance to the new culture; manifest itself in the track record of the industry to attract of new blood.
If a company puts in a top down – a linear management kind of guy – due to his background growing up in a dictatorship environment, that his home country might have been, there will be issues. Same can be said with some others who perform better in rich social situations, who need to make decision solely in trusted groups. In my experience, certain “management style” results in costly misadventures for the company, the most obvious, a high turnover of marine engineers; after all, people leave good companies because of bad managers.
We must recognize that there are differences in the management styles and expectations of maritime professionals who operate on the global stage. A Canadian maritime entity cannot expect business as usual when it taps into this pool of professionals, if clear goals and direction is not given, or any consideration made to recognize how these management styles might differ, because of the manager’s diverse backgrounds. It would be wise to implement some kind of structure that addresses this fact, before the “immigration adrenaline” run out. Otherwise, it sets up the company and the individuals employees for failure.