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The global shortage of ship officers : an investigation of the complexity of retention issues among Australian seafarers

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Caesar, DL (2016) The global shortage of ship officers : an investigation of the complexity of retention issues among Australian seafarers. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

The global shortage of ship officers is an issue receiving increasing attention as shipping companies consider how they will continue to operate their vessels in a safe manner. In particular, the issues of the recruitment of seafarers, their career progression to officer level, and their subsequent turnover due to the ease of mobility within the maritime industry have placed a greater emphasis on retention of this valuable resource. A review of the extant literature reveals that recurring wastage among cadets and senior officers compounds the shortage problem as the number of years spent at sea by the newer generation of ship officers reduces. This indicates the need for a greater understanding of the range of retention issues in order to prolong the number of years that ship officers spend onboard ships. Thus the primary research question for this thesis is: How can shipping industry employers improve the retention of ship officers?
This thesis found that the literature tends to pay little attention to the causes of the shortage of ship officers and even less to how it can be effectively addressed. This is also evidenced by a paucity of in-depth conceptual and empirical research focusing on the topic. Thus, this thesis investigates the current shortage of ship officers onboard ships. This is done by (i) identifying the factors predicting the movement of ship officers from ships to landside jobs; (ii) examining the major reasons for the shortage of ship officers; (iii) explaining the attrition process among ship officers; and (iv) assessing whether the strategies being used by shipping industry employers to retain ship officers are effective.
To effectively address the primary research question, this thesis uses an explanatory sequential mixed methods research design, consisting of a web-based survey of ship officers and a semi-structured telephone interview of senior managers of shipping industry employers in Australia. The web-based survey was sent to 305 ship officers through key gatekeepers within the Australian shipping industry. In total, 198 responses were received equating to a 65 percent response rate. For the semi-structured phone interviews, the participation of 12 senior managers from a sample size of 20 representing a response rate of 60 percent.
The empirical results of the web-based survey of ship officers reveals four categories of factors that demotivate ships officers and consequently predict their turnover. These factors relate to the organisational, extrinsic, personal and industry issues within the environment in which seafarers practise their career. Personal issues account for more than two thirds of the reasons why ship officers may quit working onboard ships to pursue landside opportunities. The strong influence of personal factors on the movement of seafarers from ships to landside jobs signals the need for a greater understanding of the issue among industry employers. Separation from family and home was found to be one of the most important personal issues contributing to high turnover among seafarers. Other aspects of the four categories of factors causing turnover among ship officers are: limited communication with family, lack of opportunities for training and career progression, poor mentorship onboard and dissatisfaction with the employer. Thus, the moving of seafarers from ships to landside jobs is triggered by a combination of issues which may be personal, organisation-based or industry-related. This highlights the multidimensional aspect of the ship officer attrition problem. Consequently, it is very important for Australian shipping industry employers to adopt multiple approaches for the improvement of retention among their seafarers.
An analysis of the semi-structured telephone interview transcripts highlights complex retention issues, a lack of adequate training and lapses in industry regulations as the reasons for the shortage of ship officers. It was also found that Australian shipping industry employers mostly rely on high salaries, recreational facilities and good working conditions as strategies to retain their ship officers onboard.
Thus this thesis contributes to a reflective understanding of how Australian seafarers perceive their career and also indicates areas that may need to be improved to increase retention rates among ship officers. By combining the findings of both the web-based survey and semi-structured telephone interviews, this thesis advocates that strategies capable of improving the attractiveness of seafaring and working onboard ships must be vigorously pursued by shipping industry employers. From an industry perspective, identifying and having a proper understanding of the factors that make seafaring less attractive is quite necessary to significantly improve the ability of shipping industry employers to attract potential people into a seafaring career. The comments of respondents from the web-based survey instrument suggest the premium placed on training by Australian seafarers. Specifically, financial assistance to complete training schedules is regarded as a key aspect of the support that Australian shipping organisations may need to provide for seafarers.
Additionally, this thesis demonstrates the need for a more definite and sustainable career path for seafarers. The key to achieving this is for Australian shipping industry employers to have a well-planned mentorship programme onboard where senior officers can pass their skill, knowledge and operational experience on to cadets and junior officers that may reduce attrition among cadets and other junior officers. The findings of this thesis also has policy implications for shipping companies with regards to the recruitment and retention of ship officers as it identifies key shortcomings within the existing human resource practices of industry employers.
This thesis highlights the need for a more responsible approach to the employment of seafarers. In the Australian context, the application of strategic human resource theories to the retention problem is a new approach. Other contributions from this thesis are the differences in the view of seafarers and employers on retention, the use of mixed methods approach and the introduction of the convergence and seafarer turnover models.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Ship Officers, Retention, Seafarers, Ships, Landside, Shortage, Global, Australian
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2016 the Author

Date Deposited: 24 Oct 2016 21:46
Last Modified: 25 Oct 2016 22:28
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